Octavia Estelle Butler
Biography / Criticism
Octavia Estelle Butler is "the first African-American woman to gain popularity and critical acclaim as a major science fiction writer" (Hine 208). She was born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California, to Laurice and Octavia M. (Guy) Butler. Of five pregnancies, Butler was the only child that her mother was able to carry to term. Her father, who worked as a shoe shiner, died when Butler was very young. Most of her memories are actually stories that she heard from her mother and grandmother. Her mother and she lived in a very racially mixed neighborhood. The unifying factor was the struggle to make ends meet. Butler "never personally experienced the more rigid forms of a segregated society" (Smith 144). She was very shy in school and describes herself as a daydreamer. These factors made it very difficult to succeed in school. She overcame dyslexia, and "began writing when [she] was 10 years old. . .to escape loneliness and boredom" (Locher 104). At age twelve, she became interested in science fiction.
Butler received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena City College. She then attended California State University, Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles. She credits her success to nonacademic programs, though. Two of these programs are the Open Door Program of the Screen Writers Guild of America and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop. While attending school, Butler held down a lot of odd jobs. Her work experiences come through in the character of Dana in her novel Kindred. Butler also spends time researching developments in biology, the physical sciences, and genetics.
Butler has won several awards for her writing. In 1984, she won a Hugo Award for her short story "Speech Sounds. " In 1985, she won the Hugo for her novella Bloodchild, which also won the 1984 Nebula Award. The Hugo and Nebula Awards are considered science fiction's highest awards. They are decided on by other science fiction writers and fans. In 1995, Butler won the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" which pays $295,000 over five years.
Butler's Patternists series, published between 1976 and 1984, tells of a society that is run by a specially-bred group of telepaths. This is an elite group who are mentally linked to one another in a hierarchical pattern. These telepaths are trying to create a superhuman race. This series includes the books Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, Wild Seed, and Clay's Ark. Patternmaster deals with the struggle between brawn and brain. It also comments on class structure and the role of women. Wild Seed "incorporates a great deal of the Black experience, including slavery" (Hine 209). Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago are the three novels that make up the Xenogenesis trilogy. These stories are about the near destruction of humankind through nuclear war and gene-swapping by extraterrestrials. The extraterrestials observe the humans as being hierarchical, which causes them to be prejudiced, and to have class divisions and conflict. These characteristics make it inevitable that mankind will eventually destroy itself without the aliens' help.
Octavia Butler has been well received by the critics. Burton Raffel had this to say about Xenogenesis: the reader is "initially drawn on by the utterly unexpected power and subtly complex intelligence of her extraordinary trilogy Xenogenesis, but sustained and even compelled by the rich dramatic textures, the profound psychological insights" (454). "Butler's work is both fascinating and highly unusual," Rosemary Stevenson writes; "character development, human relationships, and social concerns predominate over intergalactic hardware" (208).
"I'm not writing for some noble purpose, I just like telling a good story. If what I write about helps others understand this world we live in, so much the better for all of us," Octavia Butler told Robert McTyre. "Every story I write adds to me a little, changes me a little, forces me to reexamine an attitude or belief, causes me to research and learn, helps me to understand people and grow . . . Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself" (Stevenson 210).
Works by the Author
- Lilith's Brood (2000)
- Parable of the Talents (1998)
- Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995)
- Mind of My Mind (1994)
- Parable of the Sower (1993)
- Imago (1989)
- Adulthood Rites (1988)
- Dawn (1987)
- Clay's Ark (1984)
- Wild Seed (1980)
- Kindred (1979)
- Survivor (1978)
- Mind of My Mind (1977)
- Patternmaster (1976)
Works about the Author
- Allison, Dorothy. "The Future of Female: Octavia Butler's Mother Lode. " Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Meridian, 1990. 471-78.
- Bedore, Pamela. "Slavery and Symbiosis in Octavia Butler's Kindred. " Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 31.84 (2002 Spring): 73-81.
- Best, Allison Stein. "Octavia E. Butler. " Science Fiction Chronicle: The Monthly Science Fiction & Fantasy Newsmagazine 17.3 (1996): 8, 42-43.
- Birns, Nicholas. "Octavia Butler: Fashioning Alien Constructs. " Hollins Critic 38.3 (2001 June): 1-14.
- Brooks-De Vita, Novella. "Beloved and Betrayed: Survival and Authority in Kindred. " Griot: Official Journal of the Southern Conference on Afro-American Studies, Inc. 22.1 (2003): 16-20.
- Dubey, Madhu. "Folk and Urban Communities in African-American Women's Fiction: Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. " Studies in American Fiction 27.1 (1999): 103-28.
- Federmayer, Eva. "Octavia Butler's Maternal Cyborgs: The Black Female World of the Xenogenesis Trilogy. " Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 6.1 (2000): 103-18.
- Govan, Sandra Y. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.
- Hampton, Gregory Jerome and Wanda M. Brooks. "Octavia Butler and Virginia Hamilton: Black Women Writers and Science Fiction. " English Journal 92.6 (2003): 70-74.
- Holden, Rebecca J. "The High Costs of Cyborg Survival: Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis Trilogy. " Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 72 (1998): 49-56.
- Holmgren Troy, Maria. In the First Person and in the House: The House C[h]ronotype in Four Works by American Women Writers. Uppsala: Ubsaliensis S. Academiae, 1999.
- Jesser, Nancy. "Blood, Genes and Gender in Octavia Butler's Kindred and Dawn. " Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 43.1 (2002): 36-61.
- Lesniak, James G. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series 38. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1993.
- Levecq, Christine. "Power and Repetition: Philosophies of (Literary) History in Octavia E. Butler's Kindred. " Contemporary Literature 41.1 (2000 Spring): 525-53.
- Levy, Michael. "Green SF and Eco Feminism. " Originally published in IAFA Newsletter Spring 1989 issues. Reprinted in: Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Annual. 1989 Edition. Ed. Robert Collins and Robert Latham. Westport, CT: Meckler, 1990. Described as a "[r]eview article of recent work by Octavia Butler, Nancy Kress, Pamela Sargent, and Sheri S. Tepper" (Levy).
- Locher, Frances Carol. Contemporary Authors 73-76. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1978.
- Luckhurst, Roger. "'Horror and Beauty in Rare Combination': The Miscegenate Fictions of Octavia Butler. " Women: A Cultural Review 7.1 (1996): 28-38.
- McTyre, Robert E. "Octavia Butler: Black America's first lady of science fiction. " Michigan Chronicle 26 April 1994.
- Mehaffy, Marilyn and AnaLouise Keating. "'Radio Imagination': Octavia Butler on the Poetics of Narrative Embodiment. " MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 26.1 (2001): 45-76.
- Melzer, Patricia. "'All That You Touch You Change': Utopian Desire and the Concept of Change in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. " FEMSPEC: An Interdisciplinary Feminist Journal Dedicated to Critical and Creative Work in the Realms of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Surrealism, Myth, Folklore, and Other Supernatural Genres 3.2 (2002): 31-52.
- Michaels, Walter Benn. "Political Science Fictions. " New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 31.4 (2000): 649-64.
- Miller, Jim. "Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler's Dystopian/Utopian Vision. " Science Fiction Studies 25.2 (1998): 336-60.
- Osherow, Michelle. "The Dawn of a New Lilith: Revisionary Mythmaking in Women's Science Fiction. " NWSA Journal 12.1 (2000): 68-83.
- Parisi, Luciano. "Essence and Virtuality: The Incorporeal Desire of Lilith. " Annali dell'Istituto Orientale di Napoli-sezione germanica: Anglistica 4.1 (2000): 191-212.
- Phillips, Jerry. "The Intuition of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. " Novel: A Forum on Fiction 35.2-3 (2002): 299-311.
- Raffel, Burton. "Genre to the Rear, Race and Gender to the Fore: The Novels of Octavia E. Butler. " Literary Review 38 (1995): 454.
- Ramírez, Catherine S. "Cyborg Feminism: The Science Fiction of Octavia Butler and Gloria Anzaldúa. " Reload: Rethinking Women and Cyberculture. Ed. Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. 374-402.
- Reed, Brian K. "Behold the Woman: The Imaginary Wife in Octavia Butler's Kindred. " CLA Journal 47.1 (2003): 66-74.
- Salvaggio, Ruth. "Octavia Butler and the Black Science Fiction Heroine. " Black American Literature Forum 18.2 (1984): 78-81.
- Sands, Peter. "Octavia Butler's Chiastic Cannibalistics. " Utopian Studies: Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 14.1 (2003): 1-14.
- Scheer-Schúzler, Brigitte. "Loving Insects Can Be Dangerous: Assessing the Cost of Life in Octavia Estelle Butler's Novella 'Bloodchild' (1984). " Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction. Ed. Domna Pastourmatzi. Thessaloníki, Greece: University Studio, 2002. 314-22.
- Stevenson, Rosemary. Black Women In America, An Historical Encyclopedia. Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Pub. , 1993. 208-10.
- Stillman, Peter G. "Dystopian Critiques, Utopian Possibilities, and Human Purposes in Octavia Butler's Parables. " Utopian Studies: Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 14.1 (2003): 15-35.
- Zaki, Hoda. "Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler. " Science Fiction Studies 17.2 (1990): 239-251.
- "Octavia E. Butler: Persistence. " Locus: The Newspaper of the Science Fiction Field 44.6 (2000): 4, 75-78.
Works in Languages other than English
- Rituály dospelosti: xenogenesis. Frenstát P.R. [pod Radhostem]: Polaris, 1998.
- Usvit: xeonogenesis. Trans. Petr Kotrle. Frenstit P.R. [pod Radhostem]: Polaris, 1997.
- Zera` pere. Trans. Dan Sofer. Tel Aviv: `Am `Oved, 1995.
- Seme selvaggio. Trans. Lidia Perria. Milano: Interno Giallo, 1991.
- Madrugada: Xenogénese. Lisboa: Caminho, 2000.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
This site includes a message board where fans and friends have posted remembrances of Octavia Butler and a number of interviews, obituaries, and reviews.
Feminist SciFi Utopia
A listing of awards, interviews, works, and criticism by and about Butler.
OctaviaButler.Net: A Fan Blog
Audio and video, photographs, and Butler in her own words.
SciFiDimensions.Com: An Interview with Octavia Butler
Butler discusses the 25th anniversary of Kindred, her life and work.
Report a dead link or suggest a new one by emailing email@example.com.
This page was researched and submitted by Jennifer Becker on 5/17/97 and edited and updated by Lauren Curtright on 8/21/04.