Skip to main content

And the untold people who read her material for inspiration of what we can imagine from our minds and heart.

Octavia Butler is considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer.


Octavia Butler: 1947-2006

1st black woman to break barriers in sci-fi

Marcia Davis / Washington Post

March 2, 2006

What must it have been like to be Octavia Butler?

There she was, this woman of great intellect, of immense talent, of tremendous passion, and, it seems, so very much alone. Her death on Friday after falling and hitting her head outside her home in Seattle has rattled those who loved her work. She was 58.

There she was, a tall, awkward and shy black girl thinking that she wanted to write science fiction, of all things.

A young woman who believed the genre could deal with more than ray guns and transporters, and that she had a right to create fiction that tackled race and class and what it meant to be human in worlds where humanness had all but been obliterated. How could science fiction be set on a plantation?

Octavia Butler showed them how.

She was an African-American woman claiming her space in a literary universe dominated by white men. After years of rejection, she eventually won science fiction's most prestigious awards, the Nebula and the Hugo. She picked up other honors along the way, too, including a PEN West Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant.

Black science fiction trailblazer Samuel Delaney, 63, remembers teaching Butler as a 23-year-old student at the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop. She was, he says, incredibly shy, a student who spoke only when she had something to say, but someone who obviously had great talent.

It was years later, however, after she had published "Kindred," that he saw what she had become. "It was wonderful to see how she had bloomed and gained so much self-confidence and become a really extraordinary public speaker," Delaney says. She also was a pathblazer in a genre where once you could count the black writers on one hand.

She grew up poor in Southern California, where her father shined shoes before he died when she was a young girl, and her mother cleaned houses.

Butler was a young black woman coming of age at a time when black women were mainly invisible. And when she was noticed, it was with unkind eyes. She was six feet tall by the time she was in her teens, a girl with deep brown skin and short hair. She was sometimes mistaken for a man, she would say.

Early as a child, she cocooned herself in a world of books and nurtured audacious ambitions.

"Women in general were rare in the science fiction field, and black women, ha," says Steven Barnes, a black sci-fi writer.

She had to cloak her ideas thickly in metaphor, he says. "She was forced to speak through layers of obsfucation."

Butler's last manuscript, "Fledgling" was recently published to acclaim.

Waka Snek Feeds: Blog
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Originally posted by art_gurl:
I never read any of her books... or knew of her... what 'grabbed' you about them? Smile

Always sorry to hear a pioneer has passed on.

Some quick thoughts: especially pertaining to the Earthseed books

One thing that strikes you is that although the story is futuristic, it's a plausible future.... her stories are incredibly plausible... her plots are very tightly constructed page turners... and it's quite interesting the way she deals with race and gender issues - something you don't see too much in sci-fi.

I've saved the best for last. I love the sense of peculiarity that her gifted and black main character has. Her awareness of her own specialness. And the way that Butler uses her and her fictional scenario to put forth startling new ideas on spirituality...
thanks HB... they sound interesting - and quite different - I'll try to check one out if I can find any titles available here. Sci-fi isn't usually on my reading list, but perhaps I'm missing out.

I've pulled out my story from last November, and been doing a little writing - and editing Big Grin lately... I'm especially in the mood for it right now.

Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.