IT SEEMED MOST FITTING THAT WE SHOULD remember her in a bookstore. So there we were, about 50 of us--writers, readers, educators, friends. Octavia had been gone more than a week, and we were hungry for the company of other mourners. So many, after all, have yet to discover exactly how much we lost in Octavia. So many do not yet understand why she won the MacArthur "genius" grant, the Nebula and the Hugo Awards. So many will pick up Kindred (Doubleday, 1979) for the first time tomorrow and discover her genius anew. Those of us who knew her already--the lucky ones who laughed with her, dined with her, spoke to her, heard her dynamic readings, or read her words in the privacy of our own lives--were feeling the pain.
If Octavia's last appearance at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles hadn't fallen on Halloween night in 2005--our two-year-old son's first trick-or-treat experience--that is the last place we would have seen her. Instead, four months later, on March 9, 2006, we met at Eso Won to remember her. If we craned our ears, we could almost hear her deep-timbered voice. We could almost see the crown of her head, all six feet of her, among the shelves of books and posters featuring the works of Walter Mosley and Dr. Cornel West.
One by one, we stood to remember her in a place where she still felt so close.
Prophetess Among Us
A childhood friend of Octavia's, Donna Oliver, gave us a glimpse of her in elementary school--already big, already bookish, already dreaming ideas that most of the people around her had no hope of understanding. "But I thought she was fascinating," she said, and their friendship lasted 50 years. Every week, they spoke for an hour on the phone. "Octavia was a talker" she said, "and the phone was her instrument."
We read passages from Octavia's work: From Parable of the Sower (Seven Stories Press, 1993). From Kindred. From Mind of My Mind (Doubleday, 1977). Each small excerpt, read in random order, was ripe with such profundity that Octavia suddenly seemed to have been a prophetess walking among us. A pastor and a friend of nearly 20 years, the Reverend Gayle Davis-Culp, quoted a passage from Parable of the Sower:
All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change. God Is Change. When a magazine reporter e-mailed us to say she had heard Octavia had died, we hoped it was a rumor. We called writer Harlan Ellison, Octavia's mentor--and the most honored living science fiction writer--who...