Sunday, February 14, 2016


   Octavia Butler is a homegrown celebrity for those of us living here in Southern California. I first found out about her when I became a school librarian for the Los Angeles Unified School District and made a study of important authors for a school library.  Vividly I recall the English teacher who spent an overnight with her students reading Kindred by Octavia Butler.  I knew then that this was a book that was a change maker for both the young and old who read it.   Octavia E. Butler was an incredibly politically aware writer who used her novels to illuminate the injustices of yesterday and today when writing her novels. This speech given at MIT called "The Devil Girl From Mars: Why I write Science Fiction" was all about the effects of media on all of us and how it informed her exquisite writing.

   Octavia Butler was born in Pasadena, California June 22, 1947 and died in Seattle, Washington on February 24, 2006.  She was only 58 years old.  Her obituary states that she died after a fall but the precise reason for her death had not been determined.   In reading about her one gets the impression that she was very private, and that not much was known about her. She left two elderly aunts and some cousins but certainly left a body of work that will live on for as long as we are searching for answers to the important questions of our times.
   In 1995 she received the MacArthur Genius award - the first science fiction writer to receive it (and only I believe).  She received two Hugo awards from the World Science Fiction Society and two Nebula awards from the Science Fiction Writers of America. Critics always noted that she was an African American woman writing in an almost exclusively white male genre.  She was also dyslexic but this did not stop her early love for reading and writing.  And because she did not find herself in books at the time she began reading the focus of her stories were naturally African American women.
   Although there is not enough information about Octavia Butler (as so many of the people I've researched for African American History month) fortunately she did leave some videos and a book of conversations with others.  From a description of the book Conversations with Octavia Butler

"Octavia Butler spent the majority of her prolific career as the only major black female author of science fiction. Winner of both the Nebula and Hugo Awards as well as a MacArthur "genius" grant, the first for a science fiction writer, Butler created worlds that challenged notions of race, sex, gender, and humanity. Whether in the postapocalyptic future of the Parable stories, in the human inability to assimilate change and difference in the Xenogenesis books, or in the destructive sense of superiority in the Patternist series, Butler held up a mirror, reflecting what is beautiful, corrupt, worthwhile, and damning about the world we inhabit.
"In interviews ranging from 1980 until just before her sudden death in 2006, Conversations with Octavia Butler reveals a writer very much aware of herself as the "rare bird" of science fiction even as she shows frustration with the constant question,"How does it feel to be the only one?" Whether discussing humanity's biological imperatives or the difference between science fiction and fantasy or the plight of the working poor in America, Butler emerges in these interviews as funny, intelligent, complicated, and intensely original."

    Octavia Butler's own words from a site devoted to African American Literature:  “I’m a 48-year-old writer who can remember being a 10-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an 80-year-old writer. I'm also comfortably asocial -- a hermit in the middle of Los Angeles -- 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.
Black Issues Book ReviewI've had ten novels published so far: Patternmaster, Mind of my Mind, Survivor, Kindred, Wild Seed, Clay's Ark, Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago, and Parable of the Sower, as well as a collection of my shorter work, entitled Bloodchild. I've also had short stories published in anthologies and magazines. One, "Speech Sounds," won a Hugo Award as best short story of 1984. Another, "Bloodchild," won both the 1985 Hugo and the 1984 Nebula awards as best novelette.” —Octavia Butler, 1995

There is a scholarship in her name - The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship administered by the Carl Brandon Society. This link has many tributes to her, as well as photos and more. Rather than try to recreate what others have said, I hope you will click on this site and read more about this amazing woman who was so ahead of her time, who lived so carefully in a white world, who fought the good fight through her marvelous stories which give hope to future generations.  I do love what one person said about African American writers [AFROFUTURISTS] -- We are always futurists or We have always been futurists. That speaks volumes for the importance of Octavia E. Butler to generations of readers and thoughtful people.

   Friends Steven Barnes and his wife Tananarive Due had this to say (among much more) about Octavia Butler:

"Octavia was one of the purest writers I know," Barnes recalled Sunday. "She put everything she had into her work - she was extraordinarily committed to the craft. Yet, despite her shyness, she was also an open, generous and humane human being. I miss her so much already."

"Due added, "It is a cliche to say that she was too good a soul, but it's true. What she really conveyed in her writing was the deep pain she felt about the injustices around her. All of it was a metaphor for war, poverty, power struggles and discrimination. All of that hurt her very deeply, but her gift was that she could use words for the pain and make the world better."

Official (it says) Site of Octavia E. Butler - 
Bio from - 
Obituary from the New York Times - 
Wonderful summation of Butler and descriptions of all her works - 
Literary agent's official site -   which contains much information about the Memorial Scholarship, tributes, obituaries and more.
Bibliography - 
A great tribute to her from the Seattle PI - 
Pasadena City College bio - her alma mater - 
Wonderful MIT essay by Octavia Butler - Why I Write Science Fiction - 
Huntington Library has her papers - a blog about this -   There are tributes to her at the Huntington and in San Francisco - and Afrofuturists Exhibit.
Summary Bibliography - 
A Sci-Fi Radical You Should Read - Slate -  

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