“Why aren’t there more SF Black writers? There aren’t because there aren’t. What we don’t see, we assume can’t be. What a destructive assumption.” Octavia E. Butler, in “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories.
I myself discovered this author because I was asking the same exact question. I am a black woman and a writer of fantasy. Yet, when I go to conferences or awards ceremonies for fantasy the genre I write, I cannot find many like me.
I’ve met wonderful friends not of color who are amazing fantasy writers. But clearly I’m not the only one. So a few Google searches later brought me a list of authors. Octavia Butler was at the top of that list.
A career that spanned 36 years, Ms. Butler has been awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards as well as being the 1995 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.
It started in the culturally blended community of Pasadena, CA. Her mother a housemaid, she’d witnessed firsthand racial inequalities between her mother’s employers and the staff.
A shy girl she sought solace in books and sci-fi magazines at her local library. Her writing career truly began in 1974 with the Seed to Harvest series.
At age 13, her well-intentioned aunt Hazel conveyed the realities of segregation by telling her, “Honey … Negroes can’t be writers” Butler persevered in her desire to publish a story anyway, even asking her junior high school science teacher, Mr. Pfaff, to type the first manuscript she submitted to a science fiction magazine.
Her first work published was Crossover in the 1971 Clarion Workshop anthology. She also sold the short story Childfinder to Harlan Ellison for the anthology The Last Dangerous Visions.
“I thought I was on my way as a writer,” Butler recalled in her short fiction collection Bloodchild and Other Stories. “In fact, I had five more years of rejection slips and horrible little jobs ahead of me before I sold another word.”
I’d been advised that the best of her collection is Kindred. I am owner of a copy and it has proven to be one of her most awarded novels.
Kindred, is all about Dana, an African-American woman transported from 1976 Los Angeles to early nineteenth century Maryland. She meets her ancestors: Rufus, a white slaveholder, and Alice, a black freewoman forced into slavery later in life.
I won’t spoil it for you but there’s a reason why she’s so well known.
In 2006 Butler was found outside her home after years of struggling with depression possibly caused by medications for hypertension, she had a stroke.
Prior to her death she’d continued writing despite struggling with writer’s block and taught at Clarion’s Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop regularly. In 2005, she was inducted into Chicago State University’s International Black Writers Hall of Fame.
What’s your favorite Octavia Butler novel?