Octavia E. Butler

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Octavia E. Butler
Butler signing.jpg
Butler signs a copy of Fledgling in October 2005.
Born Octavia Estelle Butler
(1947-06-22)June 22, 1947
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Died February 24, 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 58)
Lake Forest Park, Washington, U.S.
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Period 1970–2006
Genre Science 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 which is 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, The Magazine of Fantasy & 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 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.[1] 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.[14]

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.[15]


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."[16] 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,[17] 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.[18] She also states that writing it was her way of overcoming a fear of bot flies.[18]

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)[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

Awards and honors[edit]



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]

Selected works[edit]


Patternist series

  • Patternmaster (Doubleday 1976; Avon 1979; Warner 1995)
  • Mind of My Mind (Doubleday 1977; Warner 1994)
  • Survivor (Doubleday 1978)
  • Wild Seed (Doubleday 1980; Warner 1988, 2001)
  • Clay's Ark (St. Martin’s Press 1984; Ace Books 1985; Warner 1996)
  • Seed to Harvest (Grand Central Publishing 2007; omnibus excluding Survivor)

Xenogenesis series

  • Dawn (Warner 1987, 1989, 1997)
  • Adulthood Rites (Warner 1988, 1977)
  • Imago (Warner 1989, 1997)
  • Xenogenesis (Guild America Books 1989; omnibus)
  • Lilith’s Brood (Warner 2000; omnibus)

Parable series (also referred to as the Earthseed series)

  • Parable of the Sower (Four Walls, Eight Windows 1993; Women’s Press 1995; Warner 1995, 2000).
  • Parable of the Talents (Seven Stories Press 1988; Quality Paperback Book Club 1999; Women’s Press 2000, 2001; Warner 2000, 2001)

Standalone novels[edit]

  • Kindred (Doubleday 1979; Beacon Press 1988, 2004).
  • Fledgling (Seven Stories Press 2005; Grand Central Publishing 2007).

Short story collections[edit]

  • Bloodchild and Other Stories (Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1995; Seven Stories Press, 1996, 2005; second edition includes “Amnesty” and “The Book of Martha”).
  • Unexpected Stories (2014, includes "A Necessary Being" and "Childfinder")

Essays and speeches[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Crossley, Robert. "Critical Essay." In Kindred, by Octavia Butler. Boston: Beacon, 2004. ISBN 0807083690 (10) ISBN 978-0807083697 (13)
  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. ^ Marshall, John. "Octavia Butler, 1947-2006: Sci-fi writer a gifted pioneer in white, male domain." Seattle Post Intelligencer. Feb. 26 2006.
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ Butler, Octavia E. (2005). "Bloodchild and Other Stories" (second ed.). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. pp. vii–viii. 
  17. ^ a b c d e "Butler, Octavia E." The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  18. ^ a b Butler, Octavia E. (2005). "Bloodchild and Other Stories" (second ed.). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. pp. 30–32. 
  19. ^ Eshun, Kodwo. "Further Considerations on Afrofuturism." CR: The New Centennial Review 3.2 (Summer 2003): 287-302. 
  20. ^ "Charlie Rose: A Conversation with Octavia Butler", 2000.
  21. ^ Butler, Octavia E. "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." Randall Kenan. Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 495-504. JSTOR. Web. 26 April 2014.
  22. ^ SF Encyclopedia Octavia Butler
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ 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)
  25. ^ a b "Octavia E. Butler-About." Octavia E. Butler Official Website.
  26. ^ SFAD-Octavia Butler
  27. ^ Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Awards Winners By Year
  28. ^ Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship

Further reading[edit]


  • Becker, Jennifer. "Octavia Estelle Butler." Voices From the Gaps. Ed. Lauren Curtright. University of Minnesota, 21 Aug. 2004.
  • "Butler, Octavia 1947–2006." Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors since 1950. Ed. Jelena O. Krstovic. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2008. 244-258.
  • Gates, Henry Louis Jr (ed.) "Octavia Butler". The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2nd Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 2004: 2515.
  • Geyh, Paula, Fred G. Leebron and Andrew Levy. "Octavia Butler". Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1998: 554-55.
  • Pfeiffer, John R. "Butler, Octavia Estelle (b. 1947)." Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day. Ed. Richard Bleiler. 2nd ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999. 147-158.
  • Smalls, F. Romall, Arnold Markoe, (editor). "Octavia Estelle Butler". The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 8. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons/Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010: 65-66.


  • Baccolini, Raffaella. "Gender and Genre in the Feminist Critical Dystopias of Katharine Burdekin, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler". Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism, Marleen S. Barr (ed.). New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000: 13–34.
  • Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" and "The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Constitutions of Self in Immune System Discourse". Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991: 149–81, 203–30.
  • Holden, Rebecca J., "The High Costs of Cyborg Survival: Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis Trilogy". Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 72 (1998): 49–56.
  • Holden, Rebecca J. and Nisi Shawl, eds. Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia Butler. Seattle: Aqueduct, 2013. ISBN 1619760371 (10) ISBN 978-1619760370 (13).
  • Lennard, John. Octavia Butler: Xenogenesis / Lilith's Brood. Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84760-036-3
  • — "Of Organelles: The Strange Determination of Octavia Butler". Of Modern Dragons and other essays on Genre Fiction. Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007: 163–90. ISBN 978-1-84760-038-7
  • Levecq, Christine, "Power and Repetition: Philosophies of (Literary) History in Octavia E. Butler's Kindred". Contemporary Literature 41.1 (2000 Spring): 525–53.
  • Luckhurst, Roger, "'Horror and Beauty in Rare Combination': The Miscegenate Fictions of Octavia Butler". Women: A Cultural Review 7.1 (1996): 28–38.
  • Melzer, Patricia, Alien Constructions: Science Fiction and Feminist Thought. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-292-71307-9
  • Omry, Keren, "A Cyborg Performance: Gender and Genre in Octavia Butler". Phoebe:Journal of Gender and Cultural Critiques. 17.2 (2005 Fall): 45–60.
  • Ramirez, Catherine S. "Cyborg Feminism: The Science Fiction of Octavia Butler and Gloria Anzaldua". Reload: Rethinking Women and Cyberculture, Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth (eds.). Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002: 374–402.
  • Ryan, Tim A. "You Shall See How a Slave Was Made a Woman: The Development of the Contemporary Novel of Slavery, 1976–1987". Calls and Responses: The American Novel of Slavery since Gone with the Wind. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2008: 114–48.
  • Schwab, Gabriele. "Ethnographies of the Future: Personhood, Agency and Power in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis". Accelerating Possession, William Maurer and Gabriele Schwab (eds.). New York: Columbia UP, 2006: 204–28.
  • Shaw, Heather. "Strange Bedfellows: Eugenics, Attraction, and Aversion in the Works of Octavia E. Butler." Strange Horizons. 18 December 2000.
  • Scott, Johnathan. "Octavia Butler and the Base for American Socialism". Socialism and Democracy 20.3 November 2006, 105–26
  • Seewood, Andre. "Freeing (Black)Science Fiction From The Chains of Race". "Shadow and Act: On Cinema Of The African Diaspora", August 1st 2012 Indiewire.com
  • Slonczewski, Joan, "Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis Trilogy: A Biologist’s Response" [1]
  • Zaki, Hoda. "Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler". Science-Fiction Studies 17 (1990): 239–51.



  • "Futurist Woman: Octavia Butler." By Veronica Mixon. Essence. 9 April 1979. pp. 12,15.
  • "Interview with Octavia Butler." By Jeffrey Elliot. Thrust 12. Summer 1979. pp. 19–22.
  • "Future Forum." Future Life 17. 1980. p. 60.
  • "Sci-Fi Visions: An Interview with Octavia Butler." By Rosalie G. Harrison. Equal Opportunity Forum Magazine 8.2.1980. pp. 30 –34.
  • "Corn Chips Yield Grist for Her Mill." By Wayne Warga. Los Angeles Times. January 30, 1981. Sec. 5: 15.
  • "Science Fiction Writer Comes of Age." By Chico Norwood. Los Angeles Sentinel April 16, 1981. A5, Al5.
  • "The Science Fiction of Octavia Butler." By Carolyn S. Davidson. SagaU 2.1. 1981. p. 35.
  • "Octavia Butler: A Wild Seed." By Bever-leigh Banfield. Hip 5.9. 1981. p. 48 and following.
  • Black Scholar Interview with Octavia Butler: Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre.” By Frances M. Beal. Black Scholar. March -April 1986. pp. 14–18.
  • "Octavia E. Butler." By Charles Brown. Locus 21.10. October 1988.
  • "Otherworldly Vision." By S. McHenry. Essence 29.10. February 1989. p. 80.
  • "Interview: Octavia Butler." By Claudia Peck. Skewed: The Magazine of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror 1. pp. 18–27.


  • "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." By Larry McCaffery and Jim McMenamin. Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers. Ed. Larry McCaffery. 1990. ISBN 0252061403 (10) ISBN 978-0252061400 (13). pp. 54–70.
  • "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." By Randall Kenan. Callaloo 14.2. 1991. pp. 495–505. 
  • "PW Interviews." By Lisa See. Publishers Weekly 240. December 13, 1993. pp. 50–51.
  • "Sci-Fi Tales from Octavia E. Butler." By H. Jerome Jackson. Crisis 101.3. April 1994. p. 4.
  • "Interview with Octavia Butler." By Jelani Cobb. jelanicobb.com. 1994. Reprinted in Conversations with Octavia Butler. Ed. Conseula Francis. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2010. 49-64.
  • "'We Keep on Playing the Same Record': A Conversation with Octavia E. Butler." By Stephen W. Potts. Science Fiction Studies 23. November 1996. pp. 331–338.
  • "Octavia E. Butler Mouths Off!" By Tasha Kelly and Jan Berrien Berends. Terra Incognita. Winter 1996.
  • "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." By Charles H. Rowell. Callaloo 20.1. 1997. pp. 47–66.
  • An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." By Steven Piziks. Marion Zimmer Bradley Fantasy Magazine. Fall 1997.
  • "'Congratulations! You've Just Won $290,000': An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." By Joan Fry. Poets & Writers 25.2. 1 March 1997. p. 58.
  • "An Interview with Octavia Butler." By Joan Fry. Poets & Writers 25. March- April 1997. pp. 58–69.
  • "Octavia Butler." By Mike McGonigal. Index Magazine. 1998.


External links[edit]