How I Met a Friend I Never Communicated With Directly

I’m not talking about online chat rooms or a mail buddy. I’m referring to Octavia Estelle Butler, my favorite author and good friend. It was a one sided relationship. I’d buy her books and she would tell me her opinions on the world and how she felt about what I was doing and would question my path along with that of the worlds.

Photo by Beth Gwinn via Locus Mag (linked)

It wasn’t a relationship that started happily, if anything it was a bit hostile in the beginning. I was 13 and she was 53. We met at Michigan State University during the summer while I was participating in one of those college programs that sought to immerse middle school students into a potential future of educational greatness. The campus was beautiful, the Physics and Chemistry classes were dead brilliant and the Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry classes were finally edifying my hunger for mathematics knowledge.

There was one class that I hated because it made no sense to me then, it was the Ethics/Social Studies course. It all centered around empathy and questioning the way of the world. I was 13, everything socially just worked because it did. There was no reason to believe that society could collapse or take horrible turns for the worst. Montezuma was a myth, the Jewish Holocaust was just something in a book and World War II was just the thing in the Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty PC game that I played. Halfway through the course we were assigned to read the “Parable of the Talents”. It had an African woman on the cover of the likes that I’d never seen before and used weird Yoruba and other ethnic names that I didn’t know existed. The most culture I had was watching Pokemon and Digimon. I did not read that book and refused to do so along with most of the class. I also refused to throw it away, I valued books. I was in the midst of exploring the latest Harry Potter book when that teacher wanted me to divert my attention away from it. Didn’t happen. I wouldn’t read that book or anything else from Ms. Butler for a few years.

About 3-4 years later boredom set in and I decided to finally give it a try. To grossly summarize the story, it involved a small community of people cut off from the main portions of society trying to thrive with their own way of life and to cultivate a new religion formed by the female leader. They had a crazy dream of funding scientific development so that they could eventually spread humanity to the rest of space. The book ends on a very satisfying note but the ride is much more than science fiction. It involved the human element very deeply. The book is narrated by the daughter of the cult leader who never got to know her mother due to a reason I won’t disclose here. Needless to say I went through the womans entire published history sans the book she hated (Survivor, 1978) since it’s so difficult to find. I learned a lot about writing and humanity through the stories that she weaved, it’s such a shame that such a forward thinking woman had to leave the world in 2006. She will be dearly missed and is a loss to all of humanity.

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