Black History Month: Octavia E. Butler

It is Black History Month! In today’s series, we are celebrating and acknowledging the legacy of Octavia E. Butler.

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Octavia E. Butler

This Black History month we are dedicating a series where we celebrate some of the most influential Black authors. Today we are looking at Octavia E. Butler. She was a science fiction writer who received multiple Hugo & Nebula awards and was the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Some of her most famed works include Kindred, Parable of the Sower, Wild Seed, and Dawn.

Octavia E. Butler: The Author’s Early Life

Octavia E. Butler black history month
Image Via Brittanica

Butler was born on June 22nd, 1947 in Pasadena, California. She was raised by her widowed mother and her grandmother. Butler lived in a strict Baptist home. She was also very shy as a child and she had dyslexia which made school very difficult. She was subject to bullying and the racially integrated community of her hometown. She was a target for bullies and this led her to believe that she was “ugly and stupid, clumsy, and socially hopeless”; thus, she found an outlet in libraries where she read fantasy novels. She began her journey in Science-Fiction in her adolescence.

At the age of ten, she begged her mom to buy her a Remington typewriter. At age twelve she watched the telefilm Devil Girl from Mars, and she thought she could write an even better story. She drafted what would later become the basis for her Patternist novels. She was happily ignorant of the obstacles that a Black woman writer could encounter. She was sure of herself at the age of 13 that she would become famous for her published storytelling.

After graduating from John Muir High School in 1965, Butler attended Pasadena City College. She took night classes, and as a freshman, she won a college-wide short-story contest. She earned her first income as a writer. She also got a germ of an idea for what soon would become her novel Kindred. In 1968, Butler graduated with an associate of arts degree with a focus in history.

Octavia E. Butler: Her Greatest Achievements

Octavia E. Butler black history month
Image Via The Guardian

Butler’s rise to prominence began in 1984 when Speech Sounds won the Hugo Award for Short Story, and a year later won the Hugo Award again for Bloodchild as well as the Locus Award, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Novelette. In the meantime, Butler traveled to the Amazon rainforest and the Andes to do research for her trilogy: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.

During the ’90s Butler worked on the novels that solidified her fame as a writer: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. In 1995, she became the first sci-fi writer to be awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship, an award that came with the prize of $295,000.

In 1999, The Parable of the Talents had won the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Nebula Award for Best Science Novel.

Her Legacy

Octavia E. Butler is highly influential in the world of science-fiction. She is particularly an influence on people of color. In 2015, Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha co-edited Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, a collection of 20 short stories and essays about social justice inspired by Butler.

Butler’s narratives have drawn the attention of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. She claimed to have three loyal audiences, however, and this included: Black readers, sci-fi fans, and feminists.

Octavia E. Butler died on February 24th, 2006 at the age of 58. She will forever be known for her feminist aesthetic that exposed the sexual, racial, and cultural chauvinisms intrinsic in our world.

Be sure to keep up to date with our series this month. You can find more articles here celebrating Black authors!