The Timeless Wisdom of Octavia Butler: Quotes to Live By

If you haven’t heard of Octavia Butler, where have you been? Butler changed the trajectory of science fiction with her groundbreaking novels and is an inspiration to so many.

Author's Corner Black Voices Book Culture Favorite Quotes
A photograph of Octavia Butler and the covers of three of her novels.

June 22nd marks what would have been the 77th birthday of renowned SF novelist and writer Octavia Butler. She passed away in 2006, leaving behind a legacy that profoundly impacted readers and writers worldwide. Follow along as we remember our favorite quotes from the ingenious legend!

“Consider we are born not with purpose, but with potential.”

Octavia Butler

There is No End

“There is no end
To what a living world
Will demand of you.”

Parable of the Sower
A black female figure on the cover of Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP.ORG

I think this quote resonates with everyone. During the global pandemic, many of us questioned when we could finally stop putting our lives on hold for the greater good. A much worse, yet somewhat similar situation, is depicted in the society where Lauren Olamina lives in Parable of the Sower. A recurring theme throughout the novel is the inevitability of things getting worse. Lauren’s perseverance in the face of constant tragedy and danger offers a valuable lesson for us as we navigate our own lives on the one planet we share. Quite ironic that this novel is set in 2024, foreshadowing the almost present.

Rejections Are Painful, But Inevitable

“Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.
Rejections are painful, but inevitable. They’re every writer’s rite of passage”

Bloodchild: And Other Stories

Everything is inevitable, so enjoy every little thing while you can!

Blood Child by Octavia E. Butler, book cover.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP.ORG

As a writer, this quote really stood out to me. Written work represents who you are and what you are capable of. As readers, we value the written word and the power a pen can hold. Rejections are a part of life, and I have been through plenty, both as a young adult and as a writer. With this quote, Butler emphasizes the importance of perseverance in the face of rejection.

To Be Reborn

“In order to rise from its own ashes a phoenix first must burn.”

Parable of the Talents
A red bird on the cover of Parable of the Talents
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Parable of the Talents symbolizes the idea of transformation and renewal through destruction. The phoenix, a mythical bird, represents rebirth and renewal. To be reborn, it must first undergo the pain and destruction of burning to ashes. It emphasizes the necessity of overcoming adversity to achieve a stronger, renewed state.

Create Lasting Change

“All that you touch,
You Change.
All that you Change,
Changes you.
The only lasting truth Is Change.”

Parable of the Sower

The quote emphasizes the dynamic and reciprocal relationship between ourselves and our environment, and the fundamental truth that change is inevitable and perpetual. Every action we take has an impact on the world around us. Whether it’s a physical touch, an interaction with another person, or a decision we make, we are constantly influencing and altering our surroundings.

Resist and Transform

“Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of “wrong” ideas.”

Kindred

This quote highlights the power of ideas in challenging oppressive systems.

Young African American woman on the cover of Kindred by Octavia Butler
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP.ORG

Repressive societies often fear and suppress ideas that threaten their control and stability because these ideas can inspire resistance, provoke critical thinking, and lead to social change. In Kindred, Dana’s time travel to the antebellum South exposes her to the brutal realities of slavery, where the enslaved people are systematically denied education and freedom of thought to prevent them from realizing their potential for resistance. Butler’s quote emphasizes the potential of ideas to disrupt and transform unjust systems, revealing why oppressive regimes are so vigilant in their efforts to suppress them.

Positive Obsession

“Positive obsession is about not being able to stop just because you’re afraid and full of doubts. Positive obsession is dangerous. It’s about not being able to stop at all.”

Octavia Butler

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an obsession is “an idea, image, or influence which continually fills or troubles the mind, etc.” However, a positive obsession can be a powerful tool. This type of obsession doesn’t just compel you to move forward despite your fears. It makes it impossible for you to stop whatsoever.

Octavia Butler's signature
IMAGE VIA WIKIMEDIA

Embrace Diversity

“Embrace diversity.
Unite—
Or be divided,
Robbed,
Ruled,
Killed,
By those who see you as prey.
Embrace diversity
Or be destroyed.”

Parable of the Sower

Diversity and unity are critical parts of our society. It stands as a building block that needs to be embraced in order to prosper in a world meant to break us apart. The stark choice Butler presents — embrace diversity or face destruction — deepens the peril of division and the power of solidarity in overcoming challenges and threats.

Maintain Your Freedom

“Sometimes, one must become a master to avoid becoming a slave.”

Wild Seed
A figure of a woman with wings on the cover of Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
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Butler’s work often explores themes of power struggles and this quote speaks volumes to the dynamics of power and control. To me, this quote suggests that you must take control of your life to maintain your freedom and autonomy.

Choose Your Leaders Wisely

“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.” 

Parable of the Talents

I think the quote is self-explanatory and fits our moment in time very well. It sounds like Butler is warning us about how leadership quality directly impacts our society’s well-being and freedom.

Octavia Butler signing a book.
IMAGE VIA WIKIMEDIA

Unsurprisingly, Octavia Butler was the first science fiction writer of any background or gender to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, famously known as the “genius grant.” Her powerful prose, reflected through her creative ability to expose real-life social justice issues, is as vital today as it was nearly 50 years ago when she sold her first story. 

These are only a selection of Butler’s countless unforgettable quotes!


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