Octavia Butler- Dreaming How Humanity Can Transcend Hierarchy

Learn about the amazing life and career of writer Octavia Butler in Becca Anderson’s, The Book of Awesome Women, latest blog post. Read it here!

Butler_signing

This is the first time this version of the photo has been released by Nikolas Coukouma

Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006) was a Black American science fiction author known for her novels, which explored futuristic utopian/dystopian themes. Young Octavia was the only child of Octavia Guy Butler, a housemaid, and Laurice Butler, a shoeshine man who died when she was seven. She was raised in a strict Baptist household by her grandmother and her mother, whom she often accompanied to her housecleaning work sites, where they were expected to use only the back door to enter the house. Octavia was extremely shy and turned to books for stimulation; after starting with fairy tales and horse stories, she was drawn to science fiction magazines featuring the work of writers including Zenna Henderson, Theodore Sturgeon, and John Brunner. At ten, she pleaded with her mother to buy her a manual Remington typewriter, at which she composed stories for countless hours using two-finger typing; at twelve, she drafted the beginnings of what would later become her Patternist series of science fiction novels. At age thirteen, when her aunt told her that Negroes couldn’t be writers, though perhaps temporarily daunted, she persevered. While working days and attending night school as a freshman at Pasadena City College, she earned her first money as a writer by winning a college-wide short story contest.

Butler continued her education at California State University Los Angeles and then at UCLA, where one of her writing instructors was the noted science fiction author Harlan Ellison. Encouraged by Ellison, in 1970, she began her writing career in earnest. In 1976, she published Patternmaster, the first of her five-volume Patternist series about an elite group of telepaths governed by Doro, a four-thousand-year-old immortal African man who had to periodically move his consciousness to new bodies to survive. Patternmaster was followed by Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay’s Ark (1984). While in the midst of producing the Patternist series, Butler released the novel Kindred in 1979; it tells the story of a modern Black woman sent back in time to an antebellum plantation, where she poses as a slave in order to carry out the rescue of her own ancestor, a white slave owner. Kindred was later adapted as a graphic novel released in 2017.

Later novels included the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn: Xenogenesis (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989). The trilogy was followed by The Parable of the Sower (1993), The Parable of the Talents (1998), and Fledgling (2005). Butler began to achieve serious recognition when her short story “Speech Sounds” won a Hugo Award in 1984; a year later, her story Bloodchild, which told the story of human male slaves who incubated the eggs of their alien masters, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer ever to be awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and she received a PEN Award for lifetime achievement in 2000. Her last book was the science fiction/vampire novel Fledgling, the tale of a West Coast vampire community in a state of symbiosis with humans, seen through the eyes of a young female hybrid vampire. Butler’s work is associated with the Afrofuturism genre, defined as “speculative fiction that treats African American themes and addresses African American concerns in the context of twentieth century technoculture.”

Simple peck-order bullying 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.

Octavia E. Butler


Why We Love Pirates

The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever

Crime and punishment. During his life and even after his death, Captain William Kidd’s name was well known in England and the American colonies. He was infamous for the very crime for which he was hanged, piracy. Rebecca Simon dives into the details of the two-year manhunt for Captain Kidd and the events that ensued. Captain Kidd was hanged in 1701, followed by a massive British-led hunt for all pirates during a period known as the Golden Age of Piracy. Ironically, public executions only increased the popularity of pirates. And, because the American colonies relied on pirates for smuggled goods such as spices, wines, and silks; pirates tended to be protected from capture.