Tonight was Octavia's memorial service, and many, many people spoke. Some in person, many through letters sent on through various people, and one notable conference-called in by phone. Friends gave tearful remembrances of how they met Octavia, or various stories about her. Students of hers from Clarion (Octavia was one of the very first graduates of the original Clarion and both heavily involved in the organization of, and a frequent teacher at, Clarion West), and family who flew in from California.
Harlan Ellison (conference-called in by phone), the writer who discovered Octavia, related stories of how they met and tried to make everyone laugh. He opened with, "I bet you're all sitting there very serious. STOP IT! You know she would want people to be cheerful!" and then told as many amusing anecdotes as he could. Octavia had actually started wanting to write television scripts, and ended up managing to get into a workshop (intended to bring diversity into the television writing biz) in the 60's that Harlan Ellison happened to be a teacher at. He read her scripts for a sitcom, and they were horrible, but evidently he saw talent in her; he drew her aside, told her she'd never make it in TV, but that she should absolutely turn to short stories and novels. He then sent her off to one of the first Clarion workshops, along with a note of introduction.
In the end, he went on so long that one of the museum staffers had to tell him to please get off the phone so others could share their memories. This, of course, prompted typical Harlan Ellison snarkery. ("Oh, no problem. I only knew her for 40 years, helped her start her career, was her friend for all that time... but I'll just try to sum that up in 10 seconds, then!")
Some people burst into tears at the podium, and there were multiple times the audience was sniffling. Some were friends or family, or students or colleagues, and some of the audience were just fans of her books who had never met her.
One thing that was suggested was that Octavia would have approved of people taking their feelings and trying to channel that into writing or producing something. I probably will try to do that later.
Anyway, I'll close with my own statement from the memorial.
I didn't know Octavia as well as I would have liked, or as well as a lot of the people who've spoken tonight did.
The first time I met Octavia Estelle Butler, I was eleven or so; she was speaking at the local library. I remember the first thing I thought -- being eleven -- was "Wow, she's really tall!" But then she started to talk, and I remember the second thing I thought was that she was a true storyteller.
A real, true storyteller makes you re-examine the world around you, makes you think about things in different ways. And I realized Octavia was one of those types of storytellers, and I knew I had to read her books. So I was particularly honored that when I was older, I got to meet her and form a casual friendship.
Someone earlier this evening said that they could still hear Octavia's voice; I don't think any of us -- not those who knew her as a friend, or those who knew her only through her stories -- can ever really forget that voice.