“‘So do you really believe that in the future we’re going to have the kind of trouble you write about in your books?’ a student asked me as I was signing books after a talk. The young man was referring to the troubles I’d described in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, novels that take place in a near future of increasing drug addiction and illiteracy, marked by the popularity of prisons and the unpopularity of public schools, the vast and growing gap between the rich and everyone else, and the whole nasty family of problems brought on by global warming.
‘I didn’t make up the problems,’ I pointed out. ‘All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters.’
‘Okay,’ the young man challenged. ‘So what’s the answer?’
‘There isn’t one,’ I told him.
‘No answer? You mean we’re just doomed?’ He smiled as though he thought this might be a joke.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers–at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.'”
Award-winning, Vanguard Young Adult Author, Octavia E. Butler, penned these words for an article in the May 2000 issue of Essence Magazine (A Few Rules for Predicting the Future). They remain amazingly relevant and poignant today…as does her body of work overall.
* * *
Octavia Estelle Butler was born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California to Laurice and Octavia M. Butler. An only child whose father died when she was just a baby, Octavia grew up tall, painfully shy, and dyslexic. She was also creative, a thoughtful reader, and a keen observer of life’s complexities and injustices. Having already written several short stories by the age of 10, Octavia’s first published series of novels was the result of stories she began writing as a youth, after having watched a bad science fiction movie on television and knowing she could create something much better.
After graduating high school in 1965, Octavia worked and attended college simultaneously, taking a variety of writing courses along the way. She also attended writing workshops sponsored by the Writers Guild of America, through which she met acclaimed science fiction writer, Harlan Ellison…through which she was invited to participate in Clarion’s Writers Workshop (in 1970)…through which she received her first publication credit, a story included in an anthology.
Before going to work, Octavia would consistently wake up in the wee hours of the morning to hone her writing skills. In 1976, Doubleday published Patternmaster, the first novel in a five book series often referred to as the Patternist Series.
In 1979, Octavia wrote Kindred, a novel inspired by the indignities she’d quietly witnessed her mother and countless others experience under the oppression of a racist society, and by the flippancy with which the younger generations seemed to regard the ancestral sacrifices made on their behalf. Kindred would be Octavia’s most successful novel. The books that comprise her Xenogenesis and Earthseed series would also prove to be popular. Besides novels, Octavia wrote award-winning short stories and novellas (like Blood Child), and became the first science-fiction writer to win the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Grant” in 1995.
During her career, Octavia also received the Hugo and Nebula awards, the Langston Hughes Medal, and a PEN Lifetime Achievement award. Her last novel, Fledgling, was published in 2005. In February of 2006, at age 58, Octavia Butler died outside of her Seattle home. She remains the “grand dame of science fiction”, having broken through the barriers of a male-dominated field…paving the way for women, African-Americans, and legions of science-fiction writers worldwide.
“Butler’s acclaimed vision of a world transformed by a secret race of telepaths and the violence, intolerance, and plague that follow their rise to power.”
“Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.”
“Lilith Iyapo is in the Andes, mourning the death of her family, when war destroys Earth. Centuries later, she is resurrected — by miraculously powerful unearthly beings, the Oankali. Driven by an irresistible need to heal others, the Oankali are rescuing our dying planet by merging genetically with mankind. But Lilith and all humanity must now share the world with uncanny, unimaginably alien creatures: their own children. This is their story…”
“Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity…The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Parable of the Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society.
“In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends.”
“Fledgling…is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly unhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted—and still wants—to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.”
The information in this spotlight was obtained from the sources below. For additional facts, interviews, and commentary on this important literary trailblazer, please visit the following: