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[1]
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".[2]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

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, so Octavia was raised by her mother and maternal grandmother in what she would later recall as a strict Baptist environment.[3] While growing up in the racially-integrated community of Pasadena allowed Butler to experience cultural and ethnic diversity in the midst of segregation, she became acquainted with the workings of white supremacy when she accompanied her mother to her cleaning work and witnessed her entering white people's houses through back doors and being spoken to or about in disrespectful ways.[4][5] Many times Butler's mother would bring home books and magazines the white families had discarded for her young daughter to read.[6]

"I began writing about power because I had so little."

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, made her believe she was "ugly and stupid, clumsy, and socially hopeless." Eventually, she grew up to be almost six feet tall, becoming an easy target for bullies.[7] As a result, she frequently passed the time reading at the Pasadena Public Library [8] and writing reams and reams of pages in her “big pink notebook.” [7] Hooked at first on fairy tales and horse stories, she quickly became interested in science fiction magazines such as Amazing, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Galaxy and began reading stories by Zenna Henderson, John Brunner, and Theodore Sturgeon.[6][9]

At age ten, she begged her mother to buy her a Remington typewriter on which she “pecked [her] stories two fingered.” [7] At twelve, watching the televised version of the film Devil Girl from Mars convinced her she could write a better story, so she drafted what would later become the basis for her Patternist novels.[9] Happily ignorant of the obstacles that a black female writer could encounter,[10] she became unsure of herself for the first time at the age of thirteen when her well-intentioned aunt Hazel conveyed the realities of segregation in five words: “Honey . . . Negroes can’t be writers.” Nevertheless, Butler persevered in her desire to publish a story, even asking her junior-high science teacher, Mr. Pfaff, to type the first manuscript she submitted to a science fiction magazine.[7][11]

After graduating from John Muir High School in 1965, Butler worked during the day and attended Pasadena City College at night.[11] As a freshman at PCC, she won a college-wide short story contest, her first fifteen dollars earned as a writer.[7] She also got the “germ of the idea” for what would become her best-selling novel, Kindred, when a young African American classmate involved in the Black Power Movement loudly criticized previous generations of African Americans for being subservient to whites. As she explained in a later interviews, the young man’s remarks instigated her to respond with a story that would give historical context to that shameful subservience so that it could be understood as silent but courageous survival.[5][12] Butler graduated from PCC with an associate of arts degree with a focus in History in 1968.[3][6]

Rise to success[edit]

Octavia E. Butler. Photo taken by Leslie Howle.

Even though Butler’s mother wanted her to become a secretary with a steady income,[5] she continued to work at a series of temporary jobs, preferably the kind of mindless work that would allow her to get up at two or three in the morning to write. Success, however, continued to elude her, as an absence of useful criticism led her to style her stories after the white-and-male-dominated science fiction she had grown up reading.[4][7] She enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles, but then switched to taking writing courses through UCLA Extension. She finally caught her break 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 Writers Guild teachers, noted science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who encouraged her to attend the six-week Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, in Clarion, Pennsylvania. There, she met the writer and later longtime friend Samuel R. Delany.[13] She also sold her two first stories: “Child Finder” to Ellison, for his anthology The Last Dangerous Visions, and “Crossover” to Robin Scott Wilson, the director of Clarion, who published it as part of the 1971 Clarion anthology.[3] [6][11]

For the next five years, Butler worked on the series of novels that would later become known as the Patternist series: Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), and Survivor (1978). In 1978, she finally was able to stop working at temporary jobs and live on her writing.[6] She took a break from the Patternist series to research and write Kindred (1979), but went back to finish it by writing Wild Seed (1980) and Clay’s Ark (1984).

"Who am I? I am a forty-seven-year-old writer who can remember being a ten-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer. I am also comfortably asocial—a hermit.... 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."

Octavia E. Butler, reading the self-penned description of herself included in Parable of the Sower during a 1994 interview with Jelani Cobb.

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 rain forest and the Andes to do research for what would become the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989).[6] 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.[14][15]

In 1999, after the death of her mother, 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.[16] 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).[17]

Death[edit]

During her last years, Butler struggled with writer’s block and depression partly caused by the side effects of her high blood pressure medication.[11][18] 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.[4]

Butler died outside of her home in Lake Forest Park, Washington, on February 24, 2006 at the age of 58.[19] 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.[20] After her death, the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship was established by the Carl Brandon Society to support students of color to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop and Clarion Writers' Workshop, descendants of the original Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop where Butler got her start thirty-five years before.[4][21]

Writing career[edit]

Early stories, Patternist series, and Kindred: 1971-1984[edit]

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." [22]

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.[16]

The first novel, Patternmaster (1976), eventually was to become 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.[14]

Next came Mind of My Mind (1977), a prequel to Patternmaster set in the twentieth 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.[3][6]

To survive,
Know the past.
Let it touch you.
Then let
The past
Go.

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 travelled 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 to a rival tribe opposing the Tehkohn.[14][23]

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).[14] In Kindred, 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, 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.[14]

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 seventeenth 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.[3][6] [14]

In 1983, Butler published “Speech Sounds,” a story set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles after 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 Short Story.[14]

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.[3]

“Bloodchild” and the Xenogenesis trilogy: 1984-1989[edit]

Butler followed Clay’s Ark with the critically acclaimed short story “Bloodchild” (1984). Set on an alien planet, “Bloodchild” 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, Locus, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award.[14]

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.[3][16] 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.[14] 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.[14]

Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989) the second and concluding installments of the Xenogenesis trilogy, respectively, 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.[14] 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 [3][6]

The Parable series: 1993-1998[edit]

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 twenty-first century America due to poor environmental stewardship, corporate greed, and the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor.[14][24] The books propose alternate philosophical views and religious interventions as solutions to such dilemmas.[3]

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 “Acorn.” [14]

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.[3] It details the takeover of Acorn 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.[14][25]

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.” [26]

Late stories and Fledgling: 2003-2005[edit]

After several years of suffering from writer’s block, Butler published the short stories “Amnesty” (2003) and ”The Book of Martha” (2003) as well as her second standalone novel, Fledgling (2005). Both short stories focus on how impossible conditions force an ordinary woman to make a distressing choice.[27] 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.[14] These two stories were added to the 2005 edition of Bloodchild and Other Stories.[14]

Butler’s last publication during her lifetime was Fledgling, a novel exploring the culture of a vampire community living in mutualistic symbiosis with humans.[4] Set in 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.[14]

Butler bequeathed her papers including manuscripts, correspondence, school papers, notebooks, and photographs to the Huntington Library.

Themes[edit]

The critique of present-day hierarchies[edit]

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.[3][6][28] “Simple peck-order bullying,” she wrote in her essay “A World without Racism,” [29] “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 Darwinian domination of the weak by the strong as a type of parasitism.[28] These superior beings, 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.” [6]

Embrace diversity
Unite--
or be divided,
robbed,
ruled,
killed
By those who see you as prey.
Embrace diversity
Or be destroyed.

From "Earthseed: The Books of the Living," Parable of the Sower.

The remaking of the human[edit]

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.[30] 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.[31] 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.” [32] 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.[28]

The survivor as hero[edit]

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.[32] 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.[3][10] 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.[28] 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.[3]

The creation of alternative communities[edit]

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.” [32]

Relationship to Afrofuturism[edit]

Butler’s work has been associated with the genre of Afrofuturism,[33] 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.” [34] 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.[32]

Influence[edit]

In interviews with Charles Rowell and Randall Kenan, Butler credited the struggles of her working-class mother as an important influence on her writing.[5][35] Because Mrs. Butler received little formal education herself, she made sure that young Octavia was given the opportunity to learn by bringing her reading materials that her white employers threw away, from magazines to advanced books.[7] She also encouraged Butler to write. She bought her daughter her first typewriter when she was ten 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.[3] A decade later, Mrs. Butler would pay more than a month’s rent to have an agent review her daughter's work.[7] 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.[14]

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.[10] 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.[14]

Point of view[edit]

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.[36] 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” [32] —what Butler termed as “writing myself in.”[37] 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.[32]

Audience[edit]

Publishers and critics have tended to label Butler’s work as science fiction,[3] but while Butler enjoyed working in what she called “potentially the freest genre in existence," [38] she resisted being branded a genre writer.[11] As many critics have pointed out, her narratives have drawn attention of people from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds,[10] and she herself claimed to have three loyal audiences: black readers, science-fiction fans, and feminists.[32]

Interviews[edit]

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.[39]

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.[40]

Adaptations[edit]

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.[41][42][43]

Awards and honors[edit]

Winner:

Nominated:

Critical reception[edit]

Most critics praise Butler on her unflinching exposition of human flaws, which she depicts with striking realism. The New York Times regarded her novels as “evocative” if “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.” 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.” [32] 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.” [32]

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.” [50]

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.[51]

Selected works[edit]

Series[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]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Crossley, Robert. "Critical Essay." In Kindred, by Octavia Butler. Boston: Beacon, 2004. ISBN 0807083690 (10) ISBN 978-0807083697 (13)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Gant-Britton, Lisbeth. "Butler, Octavia (1947– )." African American Writers. Ed. Valerie Smith. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. 95-110.
  4. ^ a b c d e “Butler, Octavia E. (Estelle) 6/22/1947-2/24/2006.” Encyclopedia of African-American Writing: Five Centuries of Contribution: Trials and Triumphs of Writers, Poets, Publications and Organizations, 2nd Ed. Ed. Shari Dorantes Hatch. Amenia , NY: Grey House, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d Butler, Octavia E. "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." Charles H. Rowell. Callaloo 20.1 (1997): 47-66.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Butler, Octavia E. "Positive Obsession." Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York : Seven Stories, 2005. 123-136.
  8. ^ Smalls, F. Romall. "Butler, Octavia Estelle." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. Ed. Arnold Markoe, Karen Markoe, and Kenneth T. Jackson. Vol. 8: 2006-2008. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2010. 65-66.
  9. ^ a b McCaffery, Larry and Jim McMenamin. “An Interview with Octavia Butler.” Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers. Ed. Larry McCaffery. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1990.
  10. ^ a b c d Belle, Dixie-Anne. "Butler, Octavia Estelle (1947–2005)." Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture. Ed. Carole Boyce Davies. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008. 235-236.
  11. ^ a b c d e Logan, Robert W. "Butler, Octavia E." Black Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. Ed. Darlene Clark Hine. Oxford: Oxford U P, 2005.
  12. ^ See, Lisa. “PW Interviews: Octavia E. Butler.” Publishers Weekly. December 13, 1993.
  13. ^ Davis, Marcia. "Octavia Butler, A Lonely, Bright Star Of the Sci-Fi Universe" The Washington Post 28 Feb. 2006.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Holden, Rebecca J, and Nisi Shawl. Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Seattle, WA : Aqueduct Press, 2013.
  15. ^ Fry, Joan. "Congratulations! You've Just Won $295,000: An Interview with Octavia Butler." Poets & Writers Magazine (March/April 1997).
  16. ^ a b c 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.
  17. ^ Butler, Octavia. "Science Fiction Writer Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming, and Religion." Interview by Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman. Democracy Now! 11 November 2005.
  18. ^ "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. Gale Virtual Literature Collection.
  19. ^ Fox, Margalit. "Octavia E. Butler, Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 58." New York Times 1 March 2006.
  20. ^ "Obituaries" Issue 543; Vol.56 No.4
  21. ^ "The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund." The Carl Brandon Society website.
  22. ^ Butler, Octavia E. “Afterword to Crossover.” Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. 1996. p. 120.
  23. ^ Bogstad, Janice. “Octavia E. Butler and Power Relations.” Janus 4.4 (1978– 79): 28–31.
  24. ^ Omry, Keren. “Octavia Butler (1947-2006).” Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers. Ed. Yolanda Williams Page. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007. 64-70.
  25. ^ Allbery, Russ. “Review of Parable of the Talents.” Eyrie.org. 5 April 2006.
  26. ^ Calvin, Ritch. "An Octavia E. Butler Bibliography (1976-2008)." Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008): 485-516.
  27. ^ Curtis, Claire P. "Theorizing Fear: Octavia Butler and The Realist Utopia." Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008): 411-431.
  28. ^ a b c d "Butler, Octavia E." American Ethnic Writers, Revised ed. Vol. 1. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2009. 168-175.
  29. ^ "A World without Racism." NPR Weekend Edition Saturday. 1 September 2001.
  30. ^ Johns, J. Adam. "Becoming Medusa: Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood and Sociobiology." Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (2010): 382-400.
  31. ^ Ferreira, Maria Aline. “Symbiotic Bodies and Evolutionary Tropes in the Work of Octavia Butler.” Science Fiction Studies 37. 3 (November 2010): 401-415.
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kilgore, De Witt Douglas and Ranu Samantrai. "A Memorial to Octavia E. Butler." Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (November 2010): 353-361.
  33. ^ Sinker, Mark. “Loving the Alien.” The Wire 96 (February 1992): 30-32.
  34. ^ Bould, Mark. “The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF.” Science Fiction Studies 34.2 (July 2007): 177-186.
  35. ^ Butler, Octavia E. "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." Randall Kenan. Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 495-504.
  36. ^ Smith Foster, Frances. "Octavia Butler's Black Female Future Fiction." Extrapolation 23.1 (1982): 37-49.
  37. ^ Fox, Margalit. “Octavia E. Butler, Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 58.” The New York Times. 1 March 2006.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ "Charlie Rose: A Conversation with Octavia Butler", 2000.
  40. ^ Butler, Octavia E. "An Interview with Octavia E. Butler." Randall Kenan. Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 495-504. JSTOR. Web. 26 April 2014.
  41. ^ Moon, Grace. "Toshi Reagon's Parable." Velvetpark: Art, Thought and Culture. 14 January 2015.
  42. ^ "Under the Radar 2015 – Octavia E. Butler'’s Parable of the Sower: The Concert Version" The New York Times. 18 January 2015.
  43. ^ "BK Live 1/14/15: Toshi Reagon." Brooklyn Independent Media. 16 January 2015.
  44. ^ "Butler, Octavia." The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Ed. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. London: Gollancz. 3 April 2015.
  45. ^ "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.
  46. ^ a b c d "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)
  47. ^ a b c d "Butler, Octavia E." The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  48. ^ a b "Octavia E. Butler-About." Octavia E. Butler Official Website.
  49. ^ "Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Awards Winners by Year." The Locus Index to SF Awards. 2010-2011.
  50. ^ Raffel, Burton. “Genre to the Rear, Race and Gender to the Fore: The Novels of Octavia E. Butler.” Literary Review 38.3. (Spring 1995): 454-61.
  51. ^ Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. Carl Brandon Society. 2015.

Further reading[edit]

Biographies[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.

Scholarship[edit]

  • 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.

Interviews[edit]

1970s-1980s[edit]

  • "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.

1990s[edit]

  • "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.

2000s[edit]

External links[edit]