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Octavia E. Butler
Butler signing a copy of Fledgling in 2005
Butler signing a copy of Fledgling in 2005
Born Octavia Estelle Butler
(1947-06-22)June 22, 1947
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Died February 24, 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 58)
Lake Forest Park, Washington, U.S.
Occupation Writer
Education Pasadena City College (AA)
California State University, Los Angeles
Period 1970–2006
Genre Science fiction
Notable awards MacArthur Fellow
Hugo Award
Nebula Award
See list


Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an American science fiction author and a multiple recipient of the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, Butler became the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.

Born in Pasadena, California, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Butler found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. She began writing science fiction as a teenager. She attended community college during the Black Power movement. While participating in a local writer's workshop, she was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, then held in Pennsylvania, which focused on science fiction.

She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author to be able to write full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public, and awards soon followed. She also taught writer's workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library in Southern California.

Early life

Octavia Estelle Butler was born in Pasadena, California, the only child of Octavia Margaret Guy, a housemaid, and Laurice James Butler, a shoeshiner. Butler's father died when she was seven. She was raised by her mother and maternal grandmother in what she would later recall as a strict Baptist environment.

Growing up in the racially integrated community of Pasadena allowed Butler to experience cultural and ethnic diversity in the midst of racial segregation. She accompanied her mother to her cleaning work where, as workers, the two entered white people's houses through back doors. Her mother was treated poorly by her employers.

From an early age, an almost paralyzing shyness made it difficult for Butler to socialize with other children. Her awkwardness, paired with a slight dyslexia that made schoolwork a torment, made Butler an easy target for bullies. She believed that she was "ugly and stupid, clumsy, and socially hopeless." As a result, she frequently spent her time reading at the Pasadena Central Library. She also wrote extensively in her "big pink notebook".

Hooked at first on fairy tales and horse stories, she quickly became interested in science fiction magazines, such as Amazing Stories, Galaxy Science Fiction, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She began reading stories by John Brunner, Zenna Henderson, and Theodore Sturgeon.

At the age of 10, Butler begged her mother to buy her a Remington typewriter, on which she "pecked [her] stories two fingered." At 12, she watched the telefilm Devil Girl from Mars (1954) and concluded that she could write a better story. She drafted what would later become the basis for her Patternist novels. Happily ignorant of the obstacles that a black female writer could encounter, she became unsure of herself for the first time at the age of 13, when her well-intentioned aunt Hazel said: "Honey ... Negroes can't be writers." But Butler persevered in her desire to publish a story, and even asked her junior high school science teacher, William Pfaff, to type the first manuscript she submitted to a science fiction magazine.

After graduating from John Muir High School in 1965, Butler worked during the day and attended Pasadena City College (PCC) at night. As a freshman at PCC, she won a college-wide short-story contest, earning her first income ($15) as a writer. She also got the "germ of the idea" for what would become her novel Kindred. An African-American classmate involved in the Black Power Movement loudly criticized previous generations of African Americans for being subservient to whites. As Butler explained in later interviews, the young man's remarks were a catalyst that led her to respond with a story providing historical context for the subservience, showing that it could be understood as silent but courageous survival. In 1968, Butler graduated from PCC with an associate of arts degree with a focus in history.

Rise to success

Although Butler's mother wanted her to become a secretary in order to have a steady income, Butler continued to work at a series of temporary jobs. She preferred less demanding work that would allow her to get up at two or three in the morning to write. Success continued to elude her. She styled her stories after the white-and-male-dominated science fiction she had grown up reading. She enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles, but switched to taking writing courses through UCLA Extension.

During the Open Door Workshop of the Writers Guild of America West, a program designed to mentor minority writers, her writing impressed one of the teachers, noted science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison. He encouraged her to attend the six-week Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania. There, Butler met Samuel R. Delany, who became a longtime friend. She also sold her first stories: "Childfinder" to Ellison, for his anthology The Last Dangerous Visions (eventually published elsewhere in 2014); and "Crossover" to Robin Scott Wilson, the director of Clarion, who published it in the 1971 Clarion anthology.

For the next five years, Butler worked on the novels that became known as the Patternist series: Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), and Survivor (1978). In 1978, she was finally able to stop working at temporary jobs and live on her writing. She took a break from the Patternist series to research and write a stand-alone novel, Kindred (1979). She then finished the Patternist series with Wild Seed (1980) and Clay's Ark (1984).

Butler's rise to prominence began in 1984 when "Speech Sounds" won the Hugo Award for Short Story and, a year later, Bloodchild won the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Novelette. In the meantime, Butler traveled to the Amazon rainforest and the Andes to do research for what would become the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989). These stories were republished in 2000 as the collection Lilith's Brood.

During the 1990s, Butler worked on the novels that solidified her fame as a writer: Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). In 1995, she became the first science-fiction writer to be awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship, an award that came with a prize of $295,000.

In 1999, after her mother's death, Butler moved to Lake Forest Park, Washington. The Parable of the Talents had won the Science Fiction Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Science Novel, and she had plans for four more Parable novels: Parable of the Trickster, Parable of the Teacher, Parable of Chaos, and Parable of Clay. However, after several failed attempts to begin The Parable of the Trickster, she decided to stop work in the series. In later interviews, Butler explained that the research and writing of the Parable novels had overwhelmed and depressed her, so she had shifted to composing something "lightweight" and "fun" instead. This became her last book, the science-fiction vampire novel Fledgling (2005).

Writing career

Early stories, Patternist series, and Kindred: 1971–1984

Butler's 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."

Starting in 1974, Butler worked on a series of novels that would later be collected as the Patternist series, which depicts the transformation of humanity into three genetic groups: the dominant Patternists, humans who have been bred with heightened telepathic powers and are bound to the Patternmaster via a psionic chain; their enemies the Clayarks, disease-mutated animal-like superhumans; and the Mutes, ordinary humans bonded to the Patternists.

Bloodchild and the Xenogenesis trilogy: 1984–1989

Butler followed Clay's Ark with the critically acclaimed short story "Bloodchild" (1984). Set on an alien planet, it depicts the complex relationship between human refugees and the insect-like aliens who keep them in a preserve to protect them, but also to use them as hosts for breeding their young. "Bloodchild" won the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards, and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award.

Three years later, Butler published Dawn, the first installment of what would become known as the Xenogenesis trilogy. The series examines the theme of alienation by creating situations in which humans are forced to coexist with other species to survive and extends Butler's recurring exploration of genetically altered, hybrid individuals and communities. Butler followed Dawn with "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" (1987), 'Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989).

The Parable series: 1993–1998

In the mid-1990s, Butler published two novels later designated as the Parable (or Earthseed) series. The books depict the struggle of the Earthseed community to survive the socioeconomic and political collapse of 21st-century America due to poor environmental stewardship, corporate greed, and the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. The books propose alternate philosophical views and religious interventions as solutions to such dilemmas.

In between her Earthseed novels, Butler published the collection Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995), which includes the short stories "Bloodchild", "The Evening and the Morning and the Night", "Near of Kin", "Speech Sounds", and "Crossover", as well as the non-fiction pieces "Positive Obsession" and "Furor Scribendi".

Later years and death

During her last years, Butler continued writing and taught at Clarion's Science Fiction Writers' Workshop regularly.

After several years of having writer's block, Butler published the short stories "Amnesty" (2003) and "The Book of Martha" (2003), and her second standalone novel, Fledgling (2005).

In 2005, she was inducted into Chicago State University's International Black Writers Hall of Fame.

Butler died outside of her home in Lake Forest Park, Washington, on February 24, 2006, aged 58. Contemporary news accounts were inconsistent as to the cause of her death, with some reporting that she had a fatal stroke.

Butler maintained a longstanding relationship with the Huntington Library and bequeathed her papers including manuscripts, correspondence, school papers, notebooks, and photographs to the library in her will. The collection, comprising 9062 pieces in 386 boxes, 1 volume, 2 binders and 18 broadsides, was made available to scholars and researchers in 2010.


Critique of present-day hierarchies

In multiple interviews and essays, Butler explained her view of humanity as inherently flawed by an innate tendency towards hierarchical thinking which leads to intolerance, violence and, if not checked, the ultimate destruction of our species.

"Simple peck-order bullying", she wrote in her essay "A World without Racism", "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." Her stories, then, often replay humanity's domination of the weak by the strong as a type of parasitism. These "others", whether aliens, vampires, superhuman, or slave masters, find themselves defied by a protagonist who embodies difference, diversity, and change, so that, as John R. Pfeiffer notes, "[i]n one sense [Butler's] fables are trials of solutions to the self-destructive condition in which she finds mankind."

Survivor as hero

Butler's protagonists are disenfranchised individuals who endure, compromise, and embrace radical change in order to survive. Even when endowed with extra abilities, these characters are forced to experience unprecedented physical, mental, and emotional distress and exclusion to ensure a minimal degree of agency and to prevent humanity from achieving self-destruction. In many stories, their acts of courage become acts of understanding, and in some cases, love, as they reach a crucial compromise with those in power. Ultimately, Butler's focus on disenfranchised characters serves to illustrate both the historical exploitation of minorities and how the resolve of one such exploited individual may bring on critical change.

Relationship to Afrofuturism

Octavia E. Butler is known for blending science fiction with African American spiritualism.

Butler's work has been associated with the genre of Afrofuturism, a term coined by Mark Dery to describe "speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture". Some critics, however, have noted that while Butler's protagonists are of African descent, the communities they create are multi-ethnic and, sometimes, multi-species.


In interviews with Charles Rowell and Randall Kenan, Butler credited the struggles of her working-class mother as an important influence on her writing. Because Butler's mother received little formal education herself, she made sure that young Butler was given the opportunity to learn by bringing her reading materials that her white employers threw away, from magazines to advanced books.

She also encouraged Butler to write. She bought her daughter her first typewriter when she was 10 years old, and, seeing her hard at work on a story casually remarked that maybe one day she could become a writer, causing Butler to realize that it was possible to make a living as an author. A decade later, Mrs. Butler would pay more than a month's rent to have an agent review her daughter's work. She also provided Butler with the money she had been saving for dental work to pay for Butler's scholarship so she could attend the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, where Butler sold her first two stories.

A second person to play an influential role in Butler's work was the American writer Harlan Ellison. As a teacher at the Open Door Workshop of the Screen Writers Guild of America, he gave Butler her first honest and constructive criticism on her writing after years of lukewarm responses from composition teachers and baffling rejections from publishers. Impressed by her work, Ellison suggested she attend the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop and even contributed $100 towards her application fee. As the years passed, Ellison's mentorship became a close friendship.

Butler herself has been highly influential in science fiction, particularly for people of color. In 2015, Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha co-edited Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, a collection of 20 short stories and essays about social justice inspired by Butler. Toshi Reagon adapted Parable of the Sower into an opera. In 2020, Adrienne Maree Brown and Toshi Reagon began collaborating on a podcast called Octavia's Parables.

Point of view

Butler began reading science fiction at a young age, but quickly became disenchanted by the genre's unimaginative portrayal of ethnicity and class as well as by its lack of noteworthy female protagonists. She determined to correct those gaps by, as De Witt Douglas Kilgore and Ranu Samantrai point out, "choosing to write self-consciously as an African-American woman marked by a particular history"—what Butler termed as "writing myself in". Butler's stories, therefore, are usually written from the perspective of a marginalized black woman whose difference from the dominant agents increases her potential for reconfiguring the future of her society.


Publishers and critics have labelled Butler's work as science fiction. While Butler enjoyed the genre deeply, calling it "potentially the freest genre in existence", she resisted being branded a genre writer. Her narratives have drawn attention of people from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds. She claimed to have three loyal audiences: black readers, science-fiction fans, and feminists.

Awards and honors

  • 1980: Creative Arts Award, L.A. YWCA
  • 1984: Hugo Award for Best Short Story – "Speech Sounds"
  • 1984: Nebula Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
  • 1985: Locus Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
  • 1985: Hugo Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
  • 1985: Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette – "Bloodchild"
  • 1988: Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette – "The Evening and the Morning and the Night"
  • 1995: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant
  • 1995: Bloodchild a New York Times Notable Book
  • 1997: Honorary Degree in Humane Letters, from Kenyon College
  • 1998: Publishers Weekly Best '98 Books – Parable of the Talents
  • 1998: James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List– Parable of the Talents
  • 1999: Los Angeles Times Bestseller – Parable of the Talents
  • 1999: Nebula Award for Best NovelParable of the Talents
  • 2001: Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist – Parable of the Talents
  • 2000: Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing from the PEN American Center
  • 2005: Langston Hughes Medal of The City College
  • 2010: Inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame
  • 2012: Solstice Award
  • 2018: The International Astronomical Union named a mountain on Charon (a moon of Pluto) Butler Mons to honor the author, after a public suggestion period and nomination by NASA.
  • 2018: Google featured her in a Google Doodle in the United States on June 22, 2018, which would have been Butler's 71st birthday.
  • 2019: Asteroid 7052 Octaviabutler, discovered by American astronomer Eleanor Helin at Palomar Observatory in 1988, was named in her memory. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on August 27, 2019 (M.P.C. 115893).
  • 2019: Los Angeles Public Library opened the Octavia Lab, a do-it-yourself maker space and audiovisual space named in Butler's honor.
  • 2020: Ignyte Award for Best Comics Team for a graphic novel adaptation of Parable of the Sower, adapted by Damian Duffy and illustrated by John Jennings
  • 2021: Named as one of the women inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021.
Mars Perseverance rover – Octavia E. Butler Landing Site In Jezero Crater
  • 2021: NASA named the landing site of the Perseverance rover in Jezero crater on Mars the "Octavia E. Butler Landing" in her honor.
  • 2022: A school which Butler had previously attended for middle school changed its name from Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy to Octavia E. Butler Magnet.
  • 2023: In February 2023, a bookstore named Octavia's Bookshelf opened in Pasadena, California.

Memorial scholarships

In 2006, the Carl Brandon Society established the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship in Butler's memory, to enable writers of color to attend the annual Clarion West Writers Workshop and Clarion Writers' Workshop, descendants of the original Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where Butler got her start. The first scholarships were awarded in 2007.

In March 2019, Butler's alma mater, Pasadena City College, announced the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship for students enrolled in the Pathways program and committed to transfer to four-year institutions.

Selected works

A complete bibliography of Butler's work was compiled in 2008 by Calvin Ritch.


Patternist series

  • Patternmaster (Doubleday, 1976)
  • Mind of My Mind (Doubleday, 1977)
  • Survivor (Doubleday, 1978)
  • Wild Seed (Doubleday, 1980)
  • Clay's Ark (St. Martin's Press, 1984)
  • Seed to Harvest (Grand Central Publishing 2007; omnibus excluding Survivor)

Xenogenesis series

  • Dawn (Warner, 1987)
  • Adulthood Rites (Warner, 1988)
  • Imago (Warner, 1989)
  • Xenogenesis (Guild America Books, 1989) (an omnibus edition of Dawn, Adulthood Rites, & Imago)
  • Lilith's Brood (Warner, 2000) (another omnibus edition of Dawn, Adulthood Rites, & Imago)

Parable series (also called the Earthseed series)

  • Parable of the Sower (Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1993)
  • Parable of the Talents (Seven Stories Press, 1998)

Standalone novels

  • Kindred (Doubleday, 1979)
  • Fledgling (Seven Stories Press, 2005)

Short story collections

  • Bloodchild and Other Stories (Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1995; Seven Stories Press, 2005 including "Amnesty" and "The Book of Martha")
  • Unexpected Stories (2014, including "A Necessary Being" and "Childfinder")

Essays and speeches

  • "Lost Races of Science Fiction." Transmission (Summer 1980): pp. 16–18.
  • "Birth of a Writer." Essence 20 (May 1989): 74+. Reprinted as "Positive Obsession" in Bloodchild and Other Stories.
  • "Free Libraries: Are They Becoming Extinct?" Omni 15.10 (August 1993): 4.
  • "Journeys." Journeys 30 [Oct 1995). Part of an edition from PEN/Faulkner Foundation, a talk given by Butler at the PEN/Faulkner Awards for Fiction in Rockville, MD at Quill & Brush. Reprinted as "The Monophobic Response" (the title that Butler preferred), in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, ed. Sheree R Thomas (New York: Aspect/Warner Books, 2000), pp. 415–416.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Octavia E. Butler para niños

  • Women in speculative fiction
  • Afrofuturism
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