Monday, November 22, 2004

Delany and Butler

The Samuel R. Delany/Octavia Butler reading was held at the Museum of Natural History in a small auditorium, 200-250 seats or so, with a small, raised stage set at the end. A podium was set up, which the Director of the Anacostia Museum used to introduce the speakers, along with two easy chairs for Butler and Delany. This event was held in conjunction with an exhibit on African-American writers currently at the Anacostia museum.

The auditorium was roughly half-full, so not bad for a Friday night. Based solely on what I saw and overhead from various people there, probably 3/4 of the audience came to see Butler. And out of those 3/4, probably 3/4 of them came because of her book Kindred. A good book, or so I'm told as it sits in my to-read pile, but hopefully this event carried these people to other books. The few who came for Delany ranged from SF geeks (which I guess I'll lump myself into) and a small handful of fans of his gay literature.

Butler gave a ten minute talk on Kindred, on how she pulled the idea together, the research she did, how it sold after she wrote it. But it was more fun than your standard author talking about process (which I do enjoy). Listening to her deep, musical near baritone voice spin stories about her pulling this book together was like visiting some long lost aunt. All very surprising, since she has the reputation of a recluse. Kindred, roughly, is about a contemporary woman who travels back in time to the mid-1800's. She's forced into slavery, and from what I understand a large part of the book focuses on the perspective a contemporary person can bring to that experience. Set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Butler spent a good amount of time researching at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore and just walking the highways and dirt roads of the eastern shore. Most of the physical descriptions came from her walking the land, visiting historical homes, and just getting a feel for things. She developed the plots within the book from personal narratives at the historical society.

After getting it written, she had a hell of a time selling it. Her agent tried a variety of publishing houses, but they didn't know what to do with it. She was told everything from turn it into a juvenile book, change it into a bodice ripper romance, or just give it up. Finally she sold it with the pulpy SF publisher that did all her previous books. It came out in paperback, had little press support and essentially vanished until another publisher put it out in trade and it finally got a lot of critical attention. It's now considered a classic of SF, a classic of pomo, and a classic of African-american literature.

To be Continued....



LadyLitBlitzin said...

Wow, that's amazing, that she walked the land like that. That is truly cool.

It's also frustrating to think of all she went through to get it published. Wow. How lovely to get feedback like to change it into a bodice-ripper. Man.

Hebdomeros said...

She has the right attitude about it now. She said something along the lines of she would have had to change the rape scene so that the victim character enjoyed it, and sought it out again and again.