June 22: Octavia Butler Day

This Saturday marks the birth of the most influential science fiction authors of all time. Whether or not you're familiar with Octavia Butler and her work, this guide will walk you through just how spectacular she was.


Early Life

Octavia Estelle Butler was born in June 22 in 1947 and quickly rose to fame as one of the nation's first African-American female science fiction writers.


She was extremely shy as a child and frequently passed time at the Pasadena Central Library. She quickly became hooked on science fiction magazines, like Amazing Stories, Galaxy Science Fiction, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.


When Ms. Butler was a freshman at Pasadena City College, she won a college-wide short-story contest, earning her first income as a writer. This implanted the idea for her novel Kindred, which wasn't until the late 1970s.


In 1968, she graduated with an Associate's in Arts and a focus in History.


Writing Career

Ms. Butler worked a series of temporary jobs, preferring less demanding work so she could write around her various schedules.


When she attended the Open Door Workshop of the Screenwriters' Guild of America, her writing impressed one of the teachers -- who happened to be well-known science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.


Ellison urged Butler to attend the six-week Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania -- so she did. She sold stories and soon become a published writer in various anthologies.


Over the next couple decades, Butler wrote a variety of novels.


Kindred

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.


Bloodchild

Years ago a group known as the Terrans left Earth in search of a life free of persecution. Now they live alongside the Tlic, an alien race who face extinction; their only chance of survival is to plant their larvae inside the bodies of the humans. When Gan, a young, boy, is chosen as a carrier of Tlic eggs, he faces an impossible dilemma: can he really help the species he has grown up with, even if it means sacrificing his own life?


The Parable Series (1993-1998)

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future...


Fledgling

The story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman 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.


Themes

Ms. Butler tackled many themes in her stories, such as:


Critique of present-day hierarchies

Throughout her career, Butler was vocal about her view of humanity as inherently flawed by a tendency towards hierarchical thinking that leads to tolerance and violence.


"Simple peck-order bullying", she wrote in her essay A World Without Racism "is only the beginning of the kind of hierarchical behavior that can lead to racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and all the other 'isms' that cause so much suffering in the world."


Creation of alternative communities

Butler's characters were mixed, with humans and extraterrestrials forming communities. They were multi-ethnic and sometimes crossed with different species -- presenting the idea of hybridity, which was "the potential root of good family and blessed community life."


Death

Ms. Butler struggled with writer's block and depression caused by the side effects of her high blood pressure medication. In her last years, she continued writing and taught at Clarion's Science Fiction Writers' Workshop.


In 2005, she was inducted into Chicago State University's International Black Writers Hall of Fame.


Ms. Butler died outside of her home on February 24 of 2006 at 58 years old. There were several guesses as to the cause of her death, some reporting she suffered a stroke, while others speculated she died of head injuries after falling.


In her will, she bequeathed her papers to the Huntington Library, who made her work available to the public in 2010.


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