Award Winning Science Fiction Author Remembered

Original: March 8, 2011 Issue 12

By: Stacey M. Hollis

Staff Writer


Author who found peace in writing wrote about thought provoking social ideas and topics before their time

Octavia E. Butler was a science fiction author whose writing spans reading genres in a thought-provoking and meaningful way. For those who are disinclined to follow science fiction or fantasy, this is an author whose writing, given the chance, could cause any reader to venture outside their usual field. While delving into imaginary worlds, Butler integrated issues of racism, poverty, slavery, climate change, sexuality, sexism and politics with a paring of grace and frankness that few could match. Butler’s work could indeed be placed in a genre completely her own, one which indicates the exceptionality of the works and the truly unique woman behind them.

Butler grew up as an African American in Pasadena, California. She was painfully shy around her peers and struggled with self esteem issues. She developed a passion for writing, her solitary escape, early in life.

After the untimely death of her father, Butler’s mother was left to support herself and her young daughter on a maid’s income. They lived a meager life and her mother made sacrifices to keep them afloat. Despite their hardships, her mother bought Octavia a typewriter to encourage her endeavors in writing, which were already taking off with speed. At the age of 12, the young but precocious writer was already thinking of publishing, sending manuscripts off to publishers for review.

After experiencing the multiple disappointments of rejection, Butler’s work started to be published and was soon received by readers with enthusiasm and anticipation. As the only African American female author in the field of Science Fiction, Butler was the “different” one once again, only this time it was a highly acclaimed achievement. It was not long before her immense talent was recognized and later awarded with some of the most prestigious honors an author could receive. Moreover, she was presented with the McArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant in 1995 which furnished nearly $300,000. Butler was the first Science Fiction writer in history to garner this award.

She was extremely well-versed on the subjects she wrote upon. Her passion for certain human and world issues showed up constantly in her work. Examples include her novel series “Xenogenesis” and “Earthseed,” which speculate about future earth and how it may appear after humans achieve their final, lasting damage.

In “Xenogenesis,” humankind’s intelligence paired with obsession with hierarchy leads to nearly-complete obliteration. “Earthseed” shows an Earth where global warming is taking its toll and resources become limited to the point of mass poverty and killing raids. What is interesting about these perspectives is the lingering suggestion that we are headed down that very road of destruction and eventual collapse. While, fictional, these tales sometimes hit very close to home.

As an author, she was fearless in writing about such topics that might touch a nerve in certain social groups. Certain characters displayed homosexuality long before it became less of a taboo subject, effects of global warming were prevalent in some of her described worlds, and it was often easy to liken the human ignorance and intolerance seen in her stories with certain power-holders in the real world. Nonetheless, Butler was writing not to offend, frighten or disgust, rather she was writing what she termed “cautionary tales,” stories that reveal a possible future if humans continue following the direction they are taking.

Lamentably, this remarkable woman passed away in her 58th year. She left the world much too early for her many fans who revere her and greatly admire her writing. Nonetheless, her books are immortal and the messages they will live on and be read by countless people. While she departed a world that still struggles with all the issues she confronted in her writing, she certainly left an imprint upon it. Perhaps fans will be inspired to write stories that so gracefully enlace captivating story-telling with social issues that continue to desperately need addressing. Through her books and what writers may carry on with her tradition, Octavia E. Butler’s work shall live on forever.