Octavia Estelle Butler achieved the unprecedented feat of winning three major science fiction awards–the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards, all in 1985–before going on in 1995 to also win the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. This achievement, in addition to a number of other honors, established Butler as a “grand dame” of science fiction and placed her within the genre on a level comparable to that of Toni Morrison or Alice Walker within mainstream literary fiction.
The daughter of Laurice and Octavia M. (Guy) Butler, the author was born June 22, 1947, in Pasadena, California. After attending Pasadena City College, California State University in Los Angeles, and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, she went on to launch her literary career in 1976 with the publication of the novel Patternmaster. Over the three decades that followed, until her death February 24, 2006, she would publish almost a dozen more novels including Kindred and Parable of the Talents; and the short fiction collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories.
Innovative Literary Vision
Butler’s work explores and expands the basic language of science fiction. In particular, she utilizes an interest in such subjects as psionic abilities, genetic engineering, different forms of power, and advanced alien intelligence to explore more earthbound themes of racial and sexual awareness. The various categories into which human beings place each other might be seen through Butler’s literary glasses as hierarchies that do more harm than good by encouraging and sustaining degrading forms of dominance rather than mutual respect or tolerance. In an essay for NPR titled U.N. Racism Conference, Butler observed the following:
“Back during the early 1960s there was a United Nations television commercial, the audio portion of which went something like this: ‘Ignorance, fear, disease, hunger, suspicion, hatred, war.’ That was it, although I would have added, ‘greed’ and ‘vengeance’ to the list. All or any of these can be the catalyst that turns hierarchical thinking into hierarchical behavior. Amid all this, does tolerance have a chance?
“Only if we want it to. Only when we want it to. Tolerance, like any aspect of peace, is forever a work in progress, never completed, and, if we’re as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned.
Kindred, one of Octavia E. Butler’s most celebrated books.
The author was particularly noted for her creation of unique yet believable female characters and her accomplishments in this area paved the way for such contemporary Black women speculative fiction writers as Tananarive Due and Nalo Hopkinson.
Speaking to Los Angeles Times reporter Jocelyn Y. Stewart , Tananarive Due stated, “In black speculative fiction, we are a tiny family and Octavia Butler was our matriarch.
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