Black History Month, Week 2: Octavia Butler

February 11, 2022 / Mb Staffing

Octavia Butler was a renowned science fiction author, whose stories weaved through creative world-building that brought nuance and depth to representation of her experiences.

Octavia Estelle Butler was born on June 22, 1947, in Pasadena, California. Her mother, Octavia Margaret Guy, and maternal grandmother raised her for the rest of her childhood after her father passed in 1954. Her mother was a housemaid and Octavia would visit work with her, where she would be treated poorly by her White clients.

Butler’s experiences in her lift brought nuance and depth to the representation she related in her novels. She was incredibly shy, and dealt with mild dyslexia, which made it difficult for her to form friendships in school. Reading was therapy for her as she would visit local library honing on her skills as a writer inspired by her favorite fairy tales and science fiction magazines. The art of world-building in storytelling was remarkable to her, and she would use her vivid imagination as a tool to often escape. Her dispassion towards poorly written TV movie fueled her to write a “better” story on her gifted typewriter.

Her pursuit to becoming a visionary author was often barricaded by the prejudices of the time, where it was difficult for black women to excel as an author. Her mother encouraged her to find full-time employment as a secretary. Octavia studied History and graduated with an associate degree in 1968 at Pasadena City College.

Butler would spend time writing while she would continue working at part-time jobs. She spent time reflecting on the world and writing about her personal experiences; when she was in college, “she was exposed to classmates involved with the Black Power Movement who criticized previous generations of Black Americans for accepting a subservient role,” according to ThoughtCo.

Her first series of novels were from 1971-1984 were The Crossover, Childfinder, Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, and Kindred, where she struggled to find early success in publication until 1976.

Her breakthrough was the Patternist, which was an allegory with ideas of race and gender in society and social class. The story was the first of the sci-fi series that depicted three social groupings separated by supernatural abilities: the Patternists, who have telepathic abilities, Clayarks, who have mutated with animalistic superpowers, and Mutes, ordinary humans bonded to and dependent on the Patternists.

The Patternist became significantly popular in the art of writing where she would introduce four more collective titles: Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor’s (1978), Wild Seed (1980), and then Clay’s Ark in 1984. This all dealt with the origin of her world and symbolizes deep philosophical purpose.

She began a new series between 1984-1992, called the Bloodchild, Dawn and Adulthood Rites, however, her best received book would release in 1979 called the Kindred.

Later in her career, she would be rewarded by more than 10 honorary awards and recognitions, including the Eisner Award, Solstice Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and win two awards in 1985 for the Hugo Award and Locus Award for Best Novelette. Octavia Butler passed away on February 26, 2006. Her legacy transcends through fiction as she continues to inspire young writer and pursuing authors to explore diverse perspectives in creative writing.