Octavia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler
Butler signs a copy of Fledgling in October 2005.
|Born||Octavia Estelle Butler|
June 22, 1947
Pasadena, California, U.S.
|Died||February 24, 2006 (aged 58)|
Lake Forest Park, Washington, U.S.
|Notable awards||MacArthur Fellow; Hugo Award; Nebula Award; and others|
Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an African-American author of science fiction. A multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, she became in 1995 the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.
Butler was born in Pasadena, California. After her father died, she was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Octavia found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. As a teen she began writing science fiction. She attended community college during the Black Power movement, and while participating in a local writer's workshop was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction.
She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author that she was able to pursue writing full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards judges. She also taught writer's workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Rise to success
- 3 Writing career
- 4 Death
- 5 Themes
- 6 Critical reception
- 7 Influence
- 8 Point of view
- 9 Audience
- 10 Interviews
- 11 Adaptations
- 12 Awards and honors
- 13 Scholarship fund
- 14 Selected works
- 15 See also
- 16 References
- 17 Further reading
- 18 External links
Octavia Estelle Butler was born on June 22, 1947, in Pasadena, California, the only child of Octavia Margaret Guy, a housemaid, and Laurice James Butler, a shoeshine man. Butler's father died when she was seven. Octavia was raised by her mother and maternal grandmother in what she would later recall as a strict Baptist environment.
Growing up in the racially integrated community of Pasadena allowed Butler to experience cultural and ethnic diversity in the midst of racial segregation. She accompanied her mother to her cleaning work, where the two entered white people's houses through back doors, as workers. Her mother was treated poorly by her employers.
—Octavia E. Butler, in Carolyn S. Davidson's
"The Science Fiction of Octavia Butler."
From an early age, an almost paralyzing shyness made it difficult for Butler to socialize with other children. Her awkwardness, paired with a slight dyslexia that made schoolwork a torment, led her to believe that she was "ugly and stupid, clumsy, and socially hopeless", becoming an easy target for bullies. As a result, she frequently passed the time reading at the Pasadena Central Library. She also wrote reams of pages in her "big pink notebook". Hooked at first on fairy tales and horse stories, she quickly became interested in science fiction magazines, such as Amazing Stories, Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She began reading stories by John Brunner, Zenna Henderson, and Theodore Sturgeon.
—Octavia E. Butler, in "Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories."
At the age of 10, she begged her mother to buy her a Remington typewriter, on which she "pecked [her] stories two fingered". At 12, she watched the televised version of the film Devil Girl from Mars (1954) and concluded that she could write a better story. She drafted what would later become the basis for her Patternist novels. Happily ignorant of the obstacles that a black female writer could encounter, she became unsure of herself for the first time at the age of 13, when her well-intentioned aunt Hazel said: "Honey ... Negroes can't be writers." But Butler persevered in her desire to publish a story, even asking her junior high school science teacher, Mr. Pfaff, to type the first manuscript she submitted to a science fiction magazine.
After graduating from John Muir High School in 1965, Butler worked during the day and attended Pasadena City College (PCC) at night. As a freshman at PCC, she won a college-wide short-story contest, earning her first income ($15) as a writer. She also got the "germ of the idea" for what would become her novel Kindred. An African-American classmate involved in the Black Power Movement loudly criticized previous generations of African Americans for being subservient to whites. As Butler explained in later interviews, the young man's remarks were a catalyst leading her to respond with a story providing historical context for the subservience, showing that it could be understood as silent but courageous survival. In 1968, Butler graduated from PCC with an associate of arts degree with a focus in History.
Rise to success
Although Butler's mother wanted her to become a secretary in order to have a steady income, Butler continued to work at a series of temporary jobs. She preferred less demanding work that would allow her to get up at two or three in the morning to write. Success continued to elude her. She styled her stories after the white-and-male-dominated science fiction she had grown up reading. She enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles, but switched to taking writing courses through UCLA Extension.
During the Open Door Workshop of the Screenwriters' Guild of America, West, a program designed to mentor minority writers, her writing impressed one of the teachers, noted science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison. He encouraged her to attend the six-week Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania. There, Butler met the writer Samuel R. Delany, who developed as a longtime friend. She also sold her first stories: "Childfinder" to Ellison, for his anthology The Last Dangerous Visions (still unpublished), and "Crossover" to Robin Scott Wilson, the director of Clarion, who published it in the 1971 Clarion anthology.
For the next five years, Butler worked on the series of novels that later become known as the Patternist series: Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), and Survivor (1978). In 1978, she was finally able to stop working at temporary jobs and live on her writing. She took a break from the Patternist series to research and write Kindred (1979), and then finished the series with Wild Seed (1980) and Clay's Ark (1984).
Butler's rise to prominence began in 1984 when "Speech Sounds" won the Hugo Award for Short Story and, a year later, Bloodchild won the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Novelette. In the meantime, Butler traveled to the Amazon rainforest and the Andes to do research for what would become the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989). These stories were republished in 2000 as the collection Lilith's Brood.
During the 1990s, Butler worked on the novels that solidified her fame as a writer: Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). In 1995, she became the first science-fiction writer to be awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship, an award that came with a prize of $295,000.
—Octavia E. Butler, reading the self-penned description of herself included in Parable of the Sower during a 1994 interview with Jelani Cobb.
In 1999, after her mother's death, Butler moved to Lake Forest Park, Washington. The Parable of the Talents had won the Science Fiction Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Science Novel and she had plans for four more Parable novels: Parable of the Trickster, Parable of the Teacher, Parable of Chaos, and Parable of Clay. However, after several failed attempts to begin The Parable of the Trickster, she decided to stop work in the series. In later interviews, Butler explained that the research and writing of the Parable novels had overwhelmed and depressed her, so she had shifted to composing something "lightweight" and "fun" instead. This became her last book, the science-fiction vampire novel Fledgling (2005).
Early stories, Patternist series, and Kindred: 1971–1984
Butler's first work published was Crossover in the 1971 Clarion Workshop anthology. She also sold the short story Childfinder to Harlan Ellison for the anthology The Last Dangerous Visions. "I thought I was on my way as a writer", Butler recalled in her 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."
Starting in 1974, Butler worked on a series of novels that would later be collected as the Patternist series, which depicts the transformation of humanity into three genetic groups: the dominant Patternists, humans who have been bred with heightened telepathic powers and are bound to the Patternmaster via a psionic chain; their enemies the Clayarks, disease-mutated animal-like superhumans; and the Mutes, ordinary humans bonded to the Patternists.
The first novel, Patternmaster (1976), eventually became the last installment in the series' internal chronology. Set in the distant future, it tells of the coming-of-age of Teray, a young Patternist who fights for position within Patternist society and eventually for the role of Patternmaster.
Next came Mind of My Mind (1977), a prequel to Patternmaster set in the 20th century. The story follows the development of Mary, the creator of the psionic chain and the first Patternmaster to bind all Patternists, and her inevitable struggle for power with her father Doro, a parapsychological vampire who seeks to retain control over the psionic children he has bred over the centuries.
Know the past.
Let it touch you.
—From "Earthseed: The Books of the Living," Parable of the Talents.
The third book of the series, Survivor, was published in 1978. The titular survivor is Alanna, the adopted child of the Missionaries, fundamentalist Christians who have traveled to another planet to escape Patternist control and Clayark infection. Captured by a local tribe called the Tehkohn, Alanna learns their language and adopts their customs, knowledge which she then uses to help the Missionaries avoid bondage and assimilation into a rival tribe that opposes the Tehkohn.
After Survivor, Butler took a break from the Patternist series to write what would become her best-selling novel, Kindred (1979) as well as the short story "Near of Kin" (1979). In Kindred, Dana, an African-American woman, is transported from 1976 Los Angeles to early 19th-century Maryland. She meets her ancestors: Rufus, a white slave holder, and Alice, a black freewoman forced into slavery later in life. In "Near of Kin" the protagonist discovers a taboo relationship in her family as she goes through her mother's things after her death.
In 1980, Butler published the fourth book of the Patternist series, Wild Seed, whose narrative became the series' origin story. Set in Africa and America during the 17th century, Wild Seed traces the struggle between the four-thousand-year-old parapsychological vampire Doro and his "wild" child and bride, the three-hundred-year-old shapeshifter and healer Anyanwu. Doro, who has bred psionic children for centuries, deceives Anyanwu into becoming one of his breeders, but she eventually escapes and uses her gifts to create communities that rival Doro's. When Doro finally tracks her down, Anyanwu, tired by decades of escaping or fighting Doro, decides to commit suicide, forcing him to admit his need for her.
In 1983, Butler published "Speech Sounds", a story set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where a pandemic has caused most humans to lose their ability to read, speak, or write. For many, this impairment is accompanied by uncontrollable feelings of jealousy, resentment, and rage. "Speech Sounds" received the 1984 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
In 1984, Butler released the last book of the Patternmaster series, Clay's Ark. Set in the Mojave Desert, it focuses on a colony of humans infected by an extraterrestrial microorganism brought to Earth by the one surviving astronaut of the spaceship Clay's Ark. As the microorganism compels them to spread it, they kidnap ordinary people to infect them and, in the case of women, give birth to the mutant, sphinx-like children who will be the first members of the Clayark race.
Bloodchild and the Xenogenesis trilogy: 1984–1989
Butler followed Clay's Ark with the critically acclaimed short story "Bloodchild" (1984). Set on an alien planet, it depicts the complex relationship between human refugees and the insect-like aliens who keep them in a preserve to protect them, but also to use them as hosts for breeding their young. Sometimes called Butler's "pregnant man story", "Bloodchild" won the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award.
Three years later, Butler published Dawn, the first installment of what would become known as the Xenogenesis trilogy. The series examines the theme of alienation by creating situations in which humans are forced to coexist with other species to survive and extends Butler's recurring exploration of genetically-altered, hybrid individuals and communities. In Dawn, protagonist Lilith Iyapo finds herself in a spaceship after surviving a nuclear apocalypse that destroys Earth. Saved by the Oankali aliens, the human survivors must combine their DNA with an ooloi, the Oankali's third sex, in order to create a new race that eliminates a self-destructive flaw in humans—their aggressive hierarchical tendencies. Butler followed Dawn with "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" (1987), a story about how certain female sufferers of "Duryea-Gode Disease", a genetic disorder which causes dissociative states, obsessive self-mutilation, and violent psychosis, are able to control others afflicted with the disease.
Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989) the second and the third books in the Xenogenesis trilogy, focus on the predatory and prideful tendencies that affect human evolution, as humans now revolt against Lilith's Oankali-engineered progeny. Set thirty years after humanity's return to Earth, Adulthood Rites centers on the kidnapping of Lilith's part-human, part alien child, Akin, by a human-only group who are against the Oankali. Akin learns about both aspects of his identity through his life with the humans as well as the Akjai. The Oankali-only group becomes their mediator, and ultimately creates a human-only colony in Mars. In Imago, the Oankali create a third species more powerful than themselves: the shape-shifting healer Jodahs, a human-Oankali ooloi who must find suitable human male and female mates to survive its metamorphosis and finds them in the most unexpected of places, in a village of renegade humans.
The Parable series: 1993–1998
In the mid-1990s, Butler published two novels later designated as the Parable (or Earthseed) series. The books depict the struggle of the Earthseed community to survive the socioeconomic and political collapse of 21st-century America due to poor environmental stewardship, corporate greed, and the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. The books propose alternate philosophical views and religious interventions as solutions to such dilemmas.
The first book in the series, Parable of the Sower (1993), features a fifteen-year-old protagonist named Lauren Oya Olamina, and is set in a dystopian California in the 2020s. Lauren, who suffers from a syndrome causing her to literally feel any physical pain she witnesses, decides to escape the corruption and corporatization of her community of Robledo. She forms a new belief system, Earthseed, in order to prepare for the future of the human race on another planet. Recruiting members of varying social backgrounds, Lauren relocates her new group to Northern California, naming her new community "Earthseed".
Her 1998 follow-up novel, Parable of the Talents, is set sometime after Lauren's death and is told through the excerpts of Lauren's journals as framed by the commentary of her estranged daughter, Larkin. It details the takeover of Earthseed by right-wing fundamentalist Christians, Lauren's attempts to survive their religious "re-education", and the final triumph of Earthseed as a community and a doctrine.
In between her Earthseed novels, Butler published the collection Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995), which includes the short stories "Bloodchild", "The Evening and the Morning and the Night", "Near of Kin", "Speech Sounds", and "Crossover", as well as the non-fiction pieces "Positive Obsession" and "Furor Scribendi".
Late stories and Fledgling: 2003–2005
After several years of writer's block, Butler published the short stories "Amnesty" (2003) and "The Book of Martha" (2003), and her second standalone novel, Fledgling (2005). Both short stories focus on how impossible conditions force an ordinary woman to make a distressing choice. In "Amnesty", an alien abductee recounts her painful abuse at the hand of the unwitting aliens, and upon her release, by humans, and explains why she chose to work as a translator for the aliens now that the Earth's economy is in a deep depression. In "The Book of Martha", God asks a middle-aged African-American novelist to make one important change to fix humanity's destructive ways. Martha's choice—to make humans have vivid and satisfying dreams—means that she will no longer be able to do what she loves, writing fiction. These two stories were added to the 2005 edition of Bloodchild and Other Stories.
Butler's last publication during her lifetime was Fledgling, a novel exploring the culture of a vampire community living in mutualistic symbiosis with humans. Set on the West Coast, it tells of the coming-of-age of a young female hybrid vampire whose species is called Ina. The only survivor of a vicious attack on her families that left her an amnesiac, she must seek justice for her dead, build a new family, and relearn how to be Ina.
During her last years, Butler struggled with writer's block and depression, partly caused by the side effects of medication for high blood pressure. She continued writing and taught at Clarion's Science Fiction Writers' Workshop regularly. In 2005, she was inducted into Chicago State University's International Black Writers Hall of Fame.
Butler died outside of her home in Lake Forest Park, Washington, on February 24, 2006 at the age of 58. 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.
Butler maintained a longstanding relationship with the Huntington Library and bequeathed her papers including manuscripts, correspondence, school papers, notebooks, and photographs to the library in her will. The collection, comprising 39 cartons and eight file-cabinet drawers of material, was made available to scholars and researchers in 2010.
The critique of present-day hierarchies
In multiple interviews and essays, Butler explained her view of humanity as inherently flawed by an innate tendency towards hierarchical thinking which leads to intolerance, violence and, if not checked, the ultimate destruction of our species.
"Simple peck-order bullying", she wrote in her essay "A World without Racism", "is only the beginning of the kind of hierarchical behavior that can lead to racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and all the other 'isms' that cause so much suffering in the world." Her stories, then, often replay humanity's domination of the weak by the strong as a type of parasitism. These "others", whether aliens, vampires, superhuman, or a slave masters, find themselves defied by a protagonist who embodies difference, diversity, and change, so that, as John R. Pfeiffer notes "[i]n one sense [Butler's] fables are trials of solutions to the self-destructive condition in which she finds mankind."
or be divided,
By those who see you as prey.
—From "Earthseed: The Books of the Living," Parable of the Sower.
The remaking of the human
In his essay on the sociobiological backgrounds of Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, J. Adam Johns describes how Butler's narratives counteract the death drive behind the hierarchical impulse with an innate love of life (biophilia), particularly different, strange life. Specifically, Butler's stories feature gene manipulation, interbreeding, miscegenation, symbiosis, mutation, alien contact, non-consensual sex, contamination, and other forms of hybridity as the means to correct the sociobiological causes of hierarchical violence. As De Witt Douglas Kilgore and Ranu Samantrai note, "[i]n [Butler's] narratives the undoing of the human body is both literal and metaphorical, for it signifies the profound changes necessary to shape a world not organized by hierarchical violence." The evolutionary maturity achieved by the bioengineered hybrid protagonist at the end of the story, then, signals the possible evolution of the dominant community in terms of tolerance, acceptance of diversity, and a desire to wield power responsibly.
The survivor as hero
Butler's protagonists are disenfranchised individuals who endure, compromise, and embrace radical change in order to survive. As De Witt Douglas Kilgore and Ranu Samantrai note, her stories focus on minority characters whose historical background makes them already intimate with brutal violation and exploitation, and therefore the need to compromise to survive. Even when endowed with extra abilities, these characters are forced to experience unprecedented physical, mental, and emotional distress and exclusion to ensure a minimal degree of agency and to prevent humanity from achieving self-destruction. In many stories, their acts of courage become acts of understanding, and in some cases, love, as they reach a crucial compromise with those in power. Ultimately, Butler's focus on disenfranchised characters serves to illustrate both the historical exploitation of minorities and how the resolve of one such exploited individual may bring on critical change.
The creation of alternative communities
Butler's stories feature mixed communities founded by African protagonists and populated by diverse, if similar-minded individuals. Members may be humans of African, European, or Asian descent, extraterrestrial (such as the N'Tlic in "Bloodchild"), from a different species (such as the vampiric Ina in Fledgling), and cross-species (such as the human-Oankali Akin and Jodahs in the Xenogenesis trilogy). In some stories, the community's hybridity results in a flexible view of sexuality and gender (for instance, the polyamorous extended families in Fledgling). Thus, Butler creates bonds between groups that are generally considered to be separate and unrelated, and suggests hybridity as "the potential root of good family and blessed community life".
Relationship to Afrofuturism
Butler's work has been associated with the genre of Afrofuturism, a term coined by Mark Dery to describe "speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture". Some critics, however, have noted that while Butler's protagonists are of African descent, the communities they create are multi-ethnic and, sometimes, multi-species. As De Witt Douglas Kilgore and Ranu Samantrai explain in their 2010 memorial to Butler, while Butler does offer "an afro-centric sensibility at the core of narratives", her "insistence on hybridity beyond the point of discomfort" exceeds the tenets of both black cultural nationalism and of "white-dominated" liberal pluralism.
Most critics praise Butler for her unflinching exposition of human flaws, which she depicts with striking realism. The New York Times regarded her novels as "evocative" and "often troubling" explorations of "far-reaching issues of race, sex, power". The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction called her examination of humanity "clear-headed and brutally unsentimental" and Village Voice's Dorothy Allison described her as "writing the most detailed social criticism" where "the hard edge of cruelty, violence, and domination is described in stark detail". Locus regarded her as "one of those authors who pay serious attention to the way human beings actually work together and against each other, and she does so with extraordinary plausibility". The Houston Post ranked her "among the best SF writers, blessed with a mind capable of conceiving complicated futuristic situations that shed considerable light on our current affairs".
Scholars, on the other hand, focus on Butler's choice to write from the point of view of marginal characters and communities and thus "expanded SF to reflect the experiences and expertise of the disenfranchised". While surveying Butler's novels, critic Burton Raffel noted how race and gender influence her writing: "I do not think any of these eight books could have been written by a man, as they most emphatically were not, nor, with the single exception of her first book, Pattern-Master (1976), are likely to have been written, as they most emphatically were, by anyone but an African American." Robert Crossley commended how Butler's "feminist aesthetic" works to expose sexual, racial, and cultural chauvinisms because it is "enriched by a historical consciousness that shapes the depiction of enslavement both in the real past and in imaginary pasts and futures".
Butler has been praised widely for her spare yet vivid style, with Washington Post Book World calling her craftsmanship "superb". Burton Raffel regards her prose as "carefully, expertly crafted" and "crystalline, at its best, sensuous, sensitive, exact not in the least directed at calling attention to itself".
In interviews with Charles Rowell and Randall Kenan, Butler credited the struggles of her working-class mother as an important influence on her writing. Because Butler's mother received little formal education herself, she made sure that young Butler was given the opportunity to learn by bringing her reading materials that her white employers threw away, from magazines to advanced books. She also encouraged Butler to write. She bought her daughter her first typewriter when she was 10 years old, and, seeing her hard at work on a story, casually remarked that maybe one day she could become a writer, causing Butler to realize that it was possible to make a living as an author. A decade later, Mrs. Butler would pay more than a month's rent to have an agent review her daughter's work. She also provided Butler with the money she had been saving for dental work to pay for Butler's scholarship so she could attend the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, where Butler sold her first two stories.
A second person to play an influential role in Butler's work was American writer Harlan Ellison. As a teacher at the Open Door Workshop of the Screen Writers Guild of America, he gave Butler her first honest and constructive criticism on her writing after years of lukewarm responses from composition teachers and baffling rejections from publishers. Impressed by her work, Ellison suggested she attend the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, and even contributed $100 towards her application fee. As the years passed, Ellison's mentorship became a close friendship.
Point of view
Butler began reading science fiction at a young age, but quickly became disenchanted by the genre's unimaginative portrayal of ethnicity and class as well as by its lack of noteworthy female protagonists. She then set to correct those gaps by, as De Witt Douglas Kilgore and Ranu Samantrai point out, "choosing to write self-consciously as an African-American woman marked by a particular history"—what Butler termed as "writing myself in". Butler's stories, therefore, are usually written from the perspective of a marginalized black woman whose difference from the dominant agents increases her potential for reconfiguring the future of her society.
Publishers and critics have labelled Butler's work as science fiction. While Butler enjoyed the genre deeply, calling it "potentially the freest genre in existence", she resisted being branded a genre writer. Her narratives have drawn attention of people from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds. She claimed to have three loyal audiences: black readers, science-fiction fans, and feminists.
Charlie Rose interviewed Octavia Butler in 2000 soon after the award of a 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.
In an interview by Randall Kenan, Butler discusses how her life experiences as a child shaped most of her thinking. As a writer, she 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.
In an interview with Joshunda Sanders, Butler commented on the space race and its influence on her work. She noted, "I think of the space race as a way of having a nuclear war without having one." She claimed that Ronald Reagan believed a nuclear war against the Soviet Union was winnable. Butler admitted to being very confused by this idea, and said that it contributed to her idea for the Xenogenesis books. She said "there must be something basic, something really genetically wrong with us if we're falling for this stuff." Butler then commented on how she felt a real fear about nuclear war during the Cold War and that these ideas had a real influence on some of her early works.
In an interview with Marilyn Mehaffy and AnaLouise Keating, for MELUS, Octavia Butler talked about how biology is used to keep groups of people out of power. She said, "[w]hat's made of biology is that the people who are in power are going to figure out why this is a good reason for them to stay in power. Look at the tests that show that women have better linguistic abilities: Yet, how many of our ambassadors are women? How many of the politicians are women? This is not looked at; instead, the argument goes that women don't have the mathematical abilities ... every now and then. So we're much more likely now to be penalized for whatever we're assumed not to have. We're much more likely to find that whatever little genetic thing that's discovered is going to be used against us." The issue of biology defining women and what they can and can't do has long been a part of feminism.
Parable of the Sower was adapted as Parable of the Sower: The Concert Version, a work-in-progress opera written by American folk/blues musician Toshi Reagon in collaboration with her mother, singer and composer Bernice Johnson Reagon. The adaptation's libretto and musical score combine African-American spirituals, soul, rock and roll, and folk music into rounds to be performed by singers sitting in a circle. It was performed as part of The Public Theater's 2015 Under the Radar Festival in New York City.
Kindred was adapted as a graphic novel by author Damien Duffy and artist John Jennings. The adaptation was published by Abrams ComicsArts on January 10, 2017. To visually differentiate the time periods in which Butler set the story, Jennings used muted colors for the present and vibrant ones for the past to demonstrate how the remnants and relevance of slavery are still with us. The graphic novel adaption debuted as number one New York Times hardcover graphic book bestseller on January 29, 2017.
Dawn is currently being adapted for television by producers Ava DuVernay and Charles D. King's Macro Ventures, alongside writer Victoria Mahoney. This is the first time that Octavia Butler's work has been adapted for television. There is no projected release date for the adaptation yet.
Awards and honors
- 1980: Creative Arts Award, L.A. YWCA
- 1984: Hugo Award for Best Short Story – "Speech Sounds"
- 1984: Nebula Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
- 1985: Locus Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
- 1985: Hugo Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
- 1985: Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
- 1988: Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette – "The Evening and the Morning and the Night"
- 1995: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant
- 1995: Bloodchild a New York Times Notable Book
- 1998: Publishers Weekly Best '98 Books – Parable of the Talents
- 1998: James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List– Parable of the Talents
- 1999: Los Angeles Times Bestseller – Parable of the Talents
- 1999: Nebula Award for Best Novel – Parable of the Talents
- 2001: Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist – Parable of the Talents
- 2000: Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing from the PEN American Center
- 2005: Langston Hughes Medal of The City College
- 2010: Inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame
- 2012: Solstice Award
- 2018: The International Astronomical Union named a mountain on Charon (a moon of Pluto) Butler Mons to honor the author, after a public suggestion period and nomination by NASA.
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.
Parable series (also called the Earthseed series)
Short story collections
- Bloodchild and Other Stories (Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1995; Seven Stories Press, 2005 including "Amnesty" and "The Book of Martha")
- Unexpected Stories (2014, including "A Necessary Being" and "Childfinder")
Essays and speeches
- "Birth of a Writer." Essence 20 (May 1989): 74+. Reprinted as "Positive Obsession" in Bloodchild and Other Stories.
- "Free Libraries: Are They Becoming Extinct?" Omni 15.10 (August 1993): 4.
- "Devil Girl from Mars: Why I Write Science Fiction",Media in Transition. MIT February 19, 1998. Transcript October 4, 1998.
- "Brave New Worlds: A Few Rules for Predicting the Future", Essence 31.1 (May 2000): 164+.
- "A World without Racism". NPR Weekend Edition Saturday. September 1, 2001.
- "Eye Witness: "Butler's Aha! Moment". O: The Oprah Magazine 3.5 (May 2002): 79–80.
- Octavia E. Butler at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved April 12, 2013. 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.
- Crossley, Robert. "Critical Essay." In Kindred, by Octavia Butler. Boston: Beacon, 2004. ISBN 0807083690 (10) ISBN 978-0807083697 (13)
- "Octavia Butler". MacArthur Foundation Fellows. Retrieved October 9, 2015.
- Gant-Britton, Lisbeth. "Butler, Octavia (1947– )", in Valerie Smith (ed.), African American Writers, 2nd edn. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. 95–110.
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- Fry, Joan. "Congratulations! You've Just Won $295,000: An Interview with Octavia Butler." Poets & Writers Magazine (March/April 1997).
- Butler, Octavia E. "'Radio Imagination': Octavia Butler on the Politics of Narrative Embodiment." Interview with Marilyn Mehaffy and Ana Louise Keating. MELUS 26.1 (2001): 45–76. JSTOR 3185496. doi:10.2307/3185496.
- Butler, Octavia. "Science Fiction Writer Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming, and Religion." Archived November 12, 2005, at the Wayback Machine Interview by Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman. Democracy Now! November 11, 2005.
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- Allbery, Russ. "Review of Parable of the Talents". Eyrie.org. April 5, 2006.
- Calvin, Ritch. "An Octavia E. Butler Bibliography (1976–2008)", Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008): 485–516. JSTOR 20719922.
- Curtis, Claire P. "Theorizing Fear: Octavia Butler and The Realist Utopia." Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008): 411–431. JSTOR 20719919.
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- Johns, J. Adam. "Becoming Medusa: Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood and Sociobiology." Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (2010): 382–400.
- Ferreira, Maria Aline. "Symbiotic Bodies and Evolutionary Tropes in the Work of Octavia Butler." Science Fiction Studies 37. 3 (November 2010): 401–415.
- Kilgore, De Witt Douglas and Ranu Samantrai. "A Memorial to Octavia E. Butler." Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (November 2010): 353–361. JSTOR 25746438.
- Sinker, Mark. "Loving the Alien." The Wire 96 (February 1992): 30–32.
- Bould, Mark. "The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF", Science Fiction Studies 34.2 (July 2007): 177–186. JSTOR 4241520.
- Allison, Dorothy (December 19, 1989). "The Future of Female: Octavia Butler's Mother Lode". The Village Voice. p. 67.
- "Parable of the Sower: Synopses & Reviews". Powell's. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
- "Dawn: Synopses & Reviews". Powell's. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
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- Butler, Octavia E. "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." Randall Kenan. Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 495–504. JSTOR 2931654. doi:10.2307/2931654.
- Smith Foster, Frances. "Octavia Butler's Black Female Future Fiction." Extrapolation 23.1 (1982): 37–49.
- Butler, Octavia. "Black Scholar Interview with Octavia Butler: Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre." Frances M. Beal. Black Scholar (Mar/Apr. 1986): 14–18. JSTOR 41067255.
- "Charlie Rose: A Conversation with Octavia Butler" Archived December 24, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, 2000.
- Sanders, Joshunda (March 14, 2004). "Interview with Octavia Butler". In Motion Magazine.
- "Women's Bodies: A Short Introduction". Click – Women's Bodies – Women's Bodies Over the Centuries, Girls' Body Image, 'Ideal Female Body' History, History of Sexualization of Women. Accessed December 3, 2017.
- Moon, Grace. "Toshi Reagon's Parable." Velvetpark: Art, Thought and Culture. January 14, 2015.
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- "BK Live 1/14/15: Toshi Reagon", Brooklyn Independent Media. January 16, 2015.
- "Kindred: a graphic novel adaptation". Retrieved March 11, 2017, #artandfeminism
- "The Joy (And Fear) Of Making 'Kindred' Into A Graphic Novel". NPR.org. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
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- "Octavia E. Butler Biographical Timeline", in Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl (eds), Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler, Aqueduct Press, 2013. ISBN 1619760371 (10) ISBN 978-1619760370 (13).
- "1998 James Tiptree, Jr. Award". James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award.
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- Malik, Tariq (June 22, 2018). "Google Doodle Honors Science Fiction Author Octavia E. Butler". Space.com. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
- "Octavia E. Butler's 71st Birthday". June 22, 2018.
- "Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship". Carl Brandon Society. 2015. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
- Becker, Jennifer. "Octavia Estelle Butler", Lauren Curtright (ed.), Voices From the Gaps, University of Minnesota, August 21, 2004.
- "Butler, Octavia 1947–2006", in Jelena O. Krstovic (ed.), Black Literature Criticism: Classic and Emerging Authors since 1950, 2nd edn. 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)", in Richard Bleiler (ed.), Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day. 2nd edn. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999. 147–158.
- Smalls, F. Romall, and Arnold Markoe (eds). "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", in Marleen S. Barr (ed.), Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism, New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000: 13–34.
- Bollinger, Laurel. "Placental Economy: Octavia Butler, Luce Irigaray, And Speculative Subjectivity". Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory 18.4 (2007): 325–352. doi:10.1080/10436920701708044.
- Canavan, Gerry. Octavia E. Butler. University of Illinois Press, 2016.
- 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.
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- Lennard, John. Octavia Butler: Xenogenesis / Lilith's Brood. Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84760-036-3
- Lennard, John. Of Organelles: The Strange Determination of Octavia Butler". Of Modern Dragons and other essays on Genre Fiction. Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007: 163–90. ISBN 9781847600387.
- Levecq, Christine, "Power and Repetition: Philosophies of (Literary) History in Octavia E. Butler's Kindred". Contemporary Literature 41.3 (2000 Spring): 525–53. JSTOR 1208895. doi:10.2307/1208895.
- Luckhurst, Roger, "'Horror and Beauty in Rare Combination': The Miscegenate Fictions of Octavia Butler". Women: A Cultural Review 7.1 (1996): 28–38. doi:10.1080/09574049608578256.
- 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", in Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth (eds), Reload: Rethinking Women and Cyberculture, 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 University Press, 2008: 114–48.
- Schwab, Gabriele. "Ethnographies of the Future: Personhood, Agency and Power in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis", in William Maurer and Gabriele Schwab (eds), Accelerating Possession, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006: 204–28.
- Shaw, Heather. "Strange Bedfellows: Eugenics, Attraction, and Aversion in the Works of Octavia E. Butler". Strange Horizons. December 18, 2000.
- Scott, Jonathan. "Octavia Butler and the Base for American Socialism". Socialism and Democracy 20.3 November 2006, 105–26. doi:10.1080/08854300600950269.
- Seewood, Andre. "Freeing (Black)Science Fiction From The Chains of Race". "Shadow and Act: On Cinema Of The African Diaspora", August 1, 2012. Indiewire.com.
- Slonczewski, Joan, "Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis Trilogy: A Biologist's Response".
- Zaki, Hoda M. "Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler". Science-Fiction Studies 17.2 (1990): 239–51. JSTOR 4239994.
- Veronica Mixon, "Futurist Woman: Octavia Butler." Essence, April 9, 1979, pp. 12,15.
- Jeffrey Elliot, "Interview with Octavia Butler", Thrust 12. Summer 1979, pp. 19–22.
- "Future Forum", Future Life 17. 1980, p. 60.
- Rosalie G. Harrison, "Sci-Fi Visions: An Interview with Octavia Butler", Equal Opportunity Forum Magazine, February 8, 1980, pp. 30–34.
- Wayne Warga, "Corn Chips Yield Grist for Her Mill", Los Angeles Times, January 30, 1981. Sec. 5: 15.
- Chico Norwood, "Science Fiction Writer Comes of Age", Los Angeles Sentinel, April 16, 1981. A5, Al5.
- Carolyn S. Davidson, "The Science Fiction of Octavia Butler", SagaU 2.1. 1981, p. 35.
- Bever-leigh Banfield, "Octavia Butler: A Wild Seed", Hip 5.9. 1981, pp. 48 and following.
- "Black Scholar Interview with Octavia Butler: Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre." By Frances M. Beal. Black Scholar. 17.2. March–April 1986, pp. 14–18. JSTOR 41067255.
- Charles Brown, "Octavia E. Butler", Locus 21.10. October 1988.
- S. McHenry, "Otherworldly Vision", Essence 29.10. February 1989. p. 80.
- Claudia Peck, "Interview: Octavia Butler", Skewed: The Magazine of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror 1. pp. 18–27.
- Larry McCaffery and Jim McMenamin, "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler", in Larry McCaffery (ed.), Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, 1990. ISBN 978-0252061400, pp. 54–70.
- Randall Kenan, "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler", Callaloo 14.2. 1991, pp. 495–505. JSTOR 2931654. doi:10.2307/2931654.
- Lisa See, "PW Interviews", Publishers Weekly 240. December 13, 1993, pp. 50–51.
- H. Jerome Jackson, "Sci-Fi Tales from Octavia E. Butler", Crisis 101.3. April 1994, p. 4.
- Jelani Cobb, "Interview with Octavia Butler", jelanicobb.com, 1994. Reprinted in Conseula Francis (ed.), Conversations with Octavia Butler, Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2010, pp. 49–64.
- Stephen W. Potts, "'We Keep on Playing the Same Record': A Conversation with Octavia E. Butler", Science Fiction Studies 23.3. November 1996, pp. 331–338. JSTOR 4240538.
- Tasha Kelly and Jan Berrien Berends, "Octavia E. Butler Mouths Off!" Terra Incognita, Winter 1996.
- Charles H. Rowell, "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler", Callaloo 20.1. 1997, pp. 47–66. JSTOR 3299291.
- Steven Piziks, "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler", Marion Zimmer Bradley Fantasy Magazine, Fall 1997.
- Joan Fry, "'Congratulations! You've Just Won $290,000': An Interview with Octavia E. Butler", Poets & Writers 25.2. March 1, 1997, p. 58.
- Mike McGonigal, "Octavia Butler", Index Magazine. 1998.
- Charlie Rose, "A Conversation with Octavia Butler", Charlie Rose. 2000. [Two videos on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2.]
- "Interview with Octavia Butler", Locus Magazine 44. June 2000, p. 6.
- Stephen Barnes, "Interview", American Visions 15.5. October–November 2000, pp. 24–28.
- Robyn McGee, "Octavia Butler: Soul Sister of Science Fiction", Fireweed 73. Fall 2001, pp. 60 and following.
- Marilyn Mehafly and AnaLouise Keating, "'Radio Imagination': Octavia Butler on the Politics of Narrative Embodiment", MELUS 26.1. 2001, pp. 45–76. JSTOR 3185496. doi:10.2307/3185496.
- Scott Simon, "Essay on Racism: A Science-Fiction Writer Shares Her View of Intolerance", Weekend Edition Saturday. September 1, 2001 [Audio].
- "A Conversation with Octavia Butler", Writers & Books. 2003.
- Darrell Schweitzer, "Watching the Story Happen", Interzone 186 (February 2003): 21. Reprinted as "Octavia Butler" in Speaking of the Fantastic II: Interviews with the Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2004. ISBN 1434442292 (10) ISBN 978-1434442291 (13), pp. 21–36.
- Joshunda Sanders, "Interview with Octavia Butler", In Motion Magazine, 2004.
- Earni Young, "Return of Kindred Spirits: An Anniversary for Octavia E. Butler Is a Time for Reflection and Rejoicing for Fans of Speculative Fiction", Black Issues Book Review 6.1. January–February 2004, pp. 30–33.
- Allison Keyes, "Octavia Butler's Kindred Turns 25", NPR: The Tavis Smiley Show. March 4, 2004.
- John C. Snider, "Interview: Octavia Butler", SciFiDimensions. June 2004.
- Ira Flatow, "The Interplay of Science and Science Fiction", NPR: Talk of the Nation, June 18, 2004. [Panel discussion; audio].
- Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman, "Science Fiction Writer Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming, and Religion", Democracy Now! November 11, 2005.
- "Interview with Octavia Butler". The Independent, January 2006.
- "Interview with Octavia Butler". Addicted to Race, February 6, 2006.
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