Octavia E. Butler

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Octavia E. Butler
Butler signing.jpg
Butler signs a copy of Fledgling in October 2005.
BornOctavia Estelle Butler
(1947-06-22)June 22, 1947
Pasadena, California, U.S.
DiedFebruary 24, 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 58)
Lake Forest Park, Washington, U.S.
GenreScience fiction
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Octavia E. Butler
Butler signing.jpg
Butler signs a copy of Fledgling in October 2005.
BornOctavia Estelle Butler
(1947-06-22)June 22, 1947
Pasadena, California, U.S.
DiedFebruary 24, 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 58)
Lake Forest Park, Washington, U.S.
GenreScience fiction

Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an American science fiction writer. A multiple-recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Butler was one of the best-known women in the field. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the Genius Grant.[1]

Life and education[edit]

Butler was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Since her father Laurice, a shoeshiner, died when she was a baby, Butler was raised by her grandmother and her mother (Octavia M. Butler) who worked as a maid. Butler grew up in a struggling, racially mixed neighborhood.[2] According to the Norton Anthology of African American Literature she was "an introspective only child in a strict Baptist household" who was "drawn early to [science fiction] magazines such as Amazing, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Galaxy and soon began reading all the science fiction classics."[3]

Octavia Jr., nicknamed Junie, was paralytically shy and a daydreamer, and was later diagnosed as being dyslexic. She began writing at the age of ten "to escape loneliness and boredom" and was twelve when she began a lifelong interest in science fiction.[4] "I was writing my own little stories and when I was 12, I was watching a bad science fiction movie called Devil Girl from Mars," she told the journal Black Scholar, "and decided that I could write a better story than that. And I turned off the TV and proceeded to try, and I've been writing science fiction ever since."[5]

After getting an associate's degree from Pasadena City College in 1968, she next enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles. She eventually left CalState and took writing classes through UCLA extension.

Butler credited two writing workshops for giving her "the most valuable help I received with my writing" SFWA:

She remained, throughout her career, a self-identified science fiction fan, an insider who rose from within the ranks of the field.[7]

Butler moved to Seattle, Washington, in November 1999. She described herself as "comfortably asocial—a hermit in the middle of Seattle—a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive."[8] Themes of both racial and sexual ambiguity are apparent throughout her work. Her writing has influenced a number of prominent authors.[citation needed] When asked if he could be any author in the world, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz replied that he would be Octavia Butler, who he claimed has written 9 perfect novels.[9]


Butler died outside of her home in Lake Forest Park, Washington, on February 24, 2006 at the age of 58.[10] Contemporary news accounts were inconsistent as to the cause of her death, with some reporting that she suffered a fatal stroke, while others indicated that she died of head injuries after falling and striking her head on her walkway. Another suggestion, backed by Locus magazine, is that a stroke caused the fall and hence the head injuries.[11]


Butler's first story published was "Crossover" in the 1971 Clarion Workshop anthology.[12] She sold another early short story, "Childfinder", to Harlan Ellison for the anthology The Last Dangerous Visions, which remains unpublished although Locus published its contents in June 1979.[12] "I thought I was on my way as a writer", Butler recalled in her 2005 short fiction collection Bloodchild and Other Stories. "In fact, I had five more years of rejection slips and horrible little jobs ahead of me before I sold another word."[13] ISFDB places her second published speculative fiction story in 1979.

Patternist series[edit]

Main article: Patternist series

The Patternist consists of five novels, "Patternmaster" (1976), "Mind of my Mind" (1977), "Survivor" (1978), "Wild Seed" (1980), "Clay's Ark" (1984). In 1974, she started the novel Patternmaster, reportedly related to the story she started after watching Devil Girl from Mars. It became her first book in print (Doubleday, July 1976), although it is the last of five Patternist novels in narrative sequence (and placed at the end of one omnibus edition). Three prequels followed by 1980 and one in 1984.[12]

Wild Seed, first in the Patternist story line, was published in 1980. In Wild Seed, Butler contrasts how two potentially immortal characters go about building families. The male character, Doro, engages in a breeding program to create people with stronger psychic powers both as food, and as potential companions. The female character, Anyanwu, creates villages. Yet Doro and Anyanwu, in spite of their differences grow to need each other, as the only immortal/extremely long-lived beings in the world. This book also explores the psychodynamics of power and enslavement.


In Kindred (1979), Dana, an African American woman, is transported from 1976 Los Angeles to early nineteenth century Maryland. She meets her ancestors: Rufus, a white slave holder, and Alice, an African American woman who was born free but forced into slavery later in life.

Kindred is often shelved with African American literature by bookstores. Butler herself categorized the novel not as science fiction but rather as a grim fantasy, as she did not use any science to explain the time travel.[14] Kindred became the most popular of all her books, with more than 450,000 copies currently in print. "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you," she said about the novel.[15]

Lilith's Brood[edit]

The Xenogenesis trilogy (Warner Books, 1987–89), or Lilith's Brood in its omnibus editions (from 2000)[12] features Lilith and her genetically altered children. She and the few other surviving humans are saved by extraterrestrials, the Oankali, after a "handful of people [a military group] tried to commit humanicide", leading to a missile war that destroyed much of Earth. The Oankali have a third gender, the ooloi, who have the ability to manipulate genetics, plus the ability of sexually seductive neural-stimulating and consciousness-sharing powers. All of these abilities allow them to unify the other two genders in their species, as well as unifying their species with others that they encounter. The Oankali are biological traders, driven to share genes with other intelligent species, changing both parties.

Parable series[edit]

In 2000, Octavia Butler's dystopian Parable series was nominated for the "best novel" Nebula Award. The sequence includes her two novels, Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). The novels provide the origin of the fictional religion and seemed to go against a totalitarian type of control. Butler had planned to write a third Parable novel, tentatively titled Parable of the Trickster, mentioning her work on it in a number of interviews. However, she never completed it. The various false starts for the novel can now be found among Butler's papers at the Huntington Library.[16]


She eventually shifted her creative attention, resulting in the 2005 novel Fledgling, a vampire novel with a science-fiction context. Although Butler herself passed Fledgling off as a lark, the novel is connected to her other works through its exploration of race, sexuality, and what it means to be a member of a community. Moreover, the novel continues the theme, raised explicitly in Parable of the Sower, that diversity is a biological imperative.

Short stories[edit]

Butler published one collection of her shorter writings, Bloodchild and Other Stories, in 1996. She states in the preface that she "hate[s] short-story writing" and that she is "essentially a novelist. The ideas that most interest me tend to be big."[17] The collection includes five short stories spanning Butler's career, the first finished in 1971 and the last in 1993. "Bloodchild", the Hugo and Nebula award-winning title story,[18] concerns humans who live on a reservation on an alien planet ruled by insect-like creatures. The aliens breed by implanting eggs in the humans, with whom they share a symbiotic existence. In Butler's afterword to the story, she writes that it is not about slavery as some have suggested, but rather about love and coming-of-age—as well as male pregnancy and the "unusual accommodation[s]" that a group of interstellar colonists might have to make with their adopted planet's prior inhabitants.[19] She also states that writing it was her way of overcoming a fear of bot flies.[19]

In 2005, Seven Stories Press released an expanded edition.

Themes of social criticism[edit]

Butler used the hyperbolic reach of speculative fiction to explore modern and ancient social issues. She often represented concepts like race, sexuality, gender, religion, social progress, and social class in metaphoric language. However, these issues were not relegated only to metaphor. For instance, class struggle is an overt topic in the Parable of the Sower series. Her work has been more specifically associated with the genre of Afrofuturism, a theme in contemporary black works in various media (music, art, writing, film). Afrofuturism employs speculative fiction and the trope of space and/or abduction in order to draw parallels with a marginalized, black experience. In "Further Considerations on Afrofuturism", Eshun writes, "Most science fiction tales dramatically deal with how the individual is going to contend with these alienating, dislocating societies and circumstances that pretty much sums up the mass experiences of black people in the postslavery twentieth century" (298)[20] Thus, Butler's exploration of the themes of isolation and power struggles in futuristic settings, often with black protagonists, allows her work to fall under this critical category.


Charlie Rose interviewed Octavia Butler in 2000 soon after the award of MacArthur Fellowship. The highlights are probing questions that arise out of Butler's personal life narrative and her interest in becoming not only a writer, but a writer of science fiction. Rose asked, "What then is central to what you want to say about race?" Butler's response was, "Do I want to say something central about race? Aside from, 'Hey we're here!'?" This points to an essential claim for Butler that the world of science fiction is a world of possibilities, and although race is an innate element, it is embedded in the narrative, not forced upon it.[21]

In an interview by Randall Kenan, Octavia E. Butler discusses how her life experiences as a child shaped most of her thinking. As a writer, Butler was able to use her writing as a vehicle to critique history under the lenses of feminism. In the interview, she discusses the research that had to be done in order to write her bestselling novel, Kindred. Most of it is based on visiting libraries as well as historic landmarks with respect to what she is investigating. Butler admits that she writes science fiction because she does not want her work to be labeled or used as a marketing tool. She wants the readers to be genuinely interested in her work and the story she provides, but at the same time she fears that people will not read her work because of the “science fiction” label that they have.[22]




Scholarship fund[edit]

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship was established in Butler's memory in 2006 by the Carl Brandon Society. Its goal is to provide an annual scholarship to enable writers of color to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop and Clarion Writers' Workshop, descendants of the original Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where Butler got her start. The first scholarships were awarded in 2007.[28]



Standalone novels[edit]

Short stories[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Crossley, Robert (2003). "Critical Essay". "Kindred: 25th Anniversary Edition". Boston: Beacon Press. p. 273. 
  2. ^ AA Registry.com profile on Octavia Butler.
  3. ^ Norton Anthology of African American Literature, p.2515.
  4. ^ Becker, Jennifer and Lauren Curtright. "Octavia Estelle Butler." Voices From the Gaps. University of Minnesota, 2004. Web. 8 Oct. 2014..
  5. ^ Essay at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009).
  6. ^ Washington Post obituary, 2006/2/27
  7. ^ Fowler, Karen Joy. "Remembering Octavia Butler: The great African-American science fiction writer saw herself as a reclusive outsider, but to her peers she was a beloved insider". Salon, March 17, 2006.
  8. ^ "Neda Ulaby, Sci-Fi Author Octavia Butler Dies". National Public Radio. February 27, 2006.
  9. ^ Leilani Clark, "Extended Play: An interview with 2012 MacArthur Fellow Junot Diaz", Bohemian.com, 10/2/12
  10. ^ New York Times obituary, March 1, 2006
  11. ^ "Obituaries" Issue 543; Vol.56 No.4
  12. ^ a b c d Octavia E. Butler at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-12. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  13. ^ Butler, Octavia E. (2005). "Bloodchild and Other Stories" (second ed.). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. p. 120. 
  14. ^ Crossley, Robert (2003). "Critical Essay". "Kindred: 25th Anniversary Edition". Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 267–268. 
  15. ^ Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  16. ^ Gerry Canavan (9 June 2014). "“There’s Nothing New / Under The Sun, / But There Are New Suns”: Recovering Octavia E. Butler’s Lost Parables". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  17. ^ Butler, Octavia E. (2005). "Bloodchild and Other Stories" (second ed.). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. pp. vii–viii. 
  18. ^ a b c d e "Butler, Octavia E." The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  19. ^ a b Butler, Octavia E. (2005). "Bloodchild and Other Stories" (second ed.). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. pp. 30–32. 
  20. ^ Muse.jhu.edu Eshun, Kodwo "Further Considerations on Afrofuturism"
  21. ^ "Charlie Rose: A Conversation with Octavia Butler", 2000.
  22. ^ Butler, Octavia E. "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." Randall Kenan. Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 495-504. JSTOR. Web. 26 April 2014.
  23. ^ SF Encyclopedia Octavia Butler
  24. ^ "Science Fiction Hall of Fame" at the Wayback Machine (archived March 25, 2010). [Quote: "EMP|SFM is proud to announce the 2010 Hall of Fame inductees: ..."]. Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (empsfm.org). Archived 2010-03-25. Retrieved 2013-03-19.
  25. ^ a b "Octavia E. Butler Biographical Timeline." Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Ed. Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl. Aqueduct Press, 2013. ISBN 1619760371 (10) ISBN 978-1619760370 (13)
  26. ^ SFAD-Octavia Butler
  27. ^ Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Awards Winners By Year
  28. ^ Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship

Further reading[edit]



External links[edit]

Biography and criticism[edit]

Bibliography and works[edit]