“I began writing about power because I had so little.”
Octavia Butler is a Top 100 AALBC.com Bestselling Author Making Our List 17 Times
Octavia Butler is Currently #4 in Voting for Favorite Author of the 21st Century
Octavia Butler was Voted the #15 Favorite Author of the 20th Century
Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006)
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.” —Octavia Butler, 1995
Butler was born in Pasadena California. At a young age, she lost her father Laurice J. Butler and was raised by her mother, Octavia M. Butler. Her mother worked as a maid to provide for them. With age, Butler began to understand the struggles her mother endured daily. She was known to be very shy and was also diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. Despite the challenges of being dyslexic, she was determined to have a successful and meaningful life. Butler faced many challenges, but with strong will and determination, she aspired to work twice as hard. Butler spent most of her free time in the library because of her shyness, and her love for reading began. She especially loved reading science fiction. At ten years old Butler knew she would become a writer. She created stories and always believed that her stories could be better than the ones she read. At fifteen, Butler began writing science fiction.
Butler later confesses during an interview with the New York Times, “When I started reading science fiction, I wasn’t in any of that stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything anyway. I wrote myself in since I’m me, and I’m here, and I’m writing.” Science fiction as a genre meant limitless possibilities for Butler.
Butler attended Pasadena City College and earned her A.A. degree in 1968. She also attended California State University and the University of California at Los Angeles. For her to have the time to write Butler worked at odd jobs. In 1976 Butler’s novel Pattermaster ultimately became a five-part series. These novels are about a group of people with telepathic powers ruled by a 4,000-year-old immortal African called Dora. The other four books that completed the series are, Mind of Own (1977), Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980) and Clay’s Ark (1984). In 1979 Butler wrote her novel Kindred which provided better stability financial. She no longer needed to work odd jobs. Kindred is about a black woman being sent to a pre-civil war plantation, where she becomes a slave while rescuing her white slave-owning ancestor. Butler later wrote Xenogenesis trilogy which included Dawn (1989), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989). Butler’s next series called Earthseed included novels Parable of The Sower (1993) and Parable of The Talents (1998). Butler continued to write many short stories, essays, and speeches. Fledgling (2005) was Butler’s last novel.
Butler was the first science fiction writer to be awarded a MacArthur Foundations Fellowship ’genius’ grant and a PEN award for lifetime achievement in 2000. She also won the short story Hugo Award for “Speech Sound” and both the Nebula Prize and Hugo Award for her novel Bloodchild (1995) and Parable of Talents.
In 2006 Octavia E. Butler died at her home in Seattle she was 58 years old. That same year a Memorial Scholarship was established in Butler”s memory by Carl Brandon Society. This program provides an annual Scholarship which enables African writers the opportunity to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop and Clarion Workshop which is also where Butler attend while becoming a writer. The first scholarship was given in 2007. In 2019 Pasadena City College announced an Octavia Butler Scholarship to students in the pathway program committed to attend a four year institution. Through her work, she created new worlds that could only be traveled and lived through her writing; she told stories of the struggles and pain of black people. Octavia Butler will be sadly missed but never forgotten. —written by Delia Mercado, AALBC Intern