Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler was an award winning science fiction author. She was born in June 1947 in Pasadena, California to Octavia Margaret Guy and Laurice James Butler. She was raised by her mother and grandmother as her father passed away when she was very young. She grew up in a strict environment and was exposed to racial segregation from an early age. Her mother worked as a maid and Octavia would often accompany her to work, where was exposed to the harsh reality of how being black meant that her and her mother would have to suffer disrespect and mistreatment at the hands of whites. Octavia’s mother encouraged her to read and learn and often picked up discarded magazines for her daughter to read.

Octavia was a shy and socially awkward kid, which, combined with the fact that she was almost 6 feet tall, made her a frequent target of bullying at school. She was also marginally dyslexic which made it difficult for her to learn. She chose to spend a lot of time by herself, reading and writing at the public library near her house and enjoyed reading fairy tales and science fiction from popular magazines such as Amazing, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Galaxy. Her favorite authors were Zenna Henderson, John Brunner, and Theodore Sturgeon.

Her mother purchased a typewriter for her when she was 10 years old, on which she began to write her own stories. She graduated from John Muir High School and later attended Pasadena City College, taking nighttime classes. At college, she won a short story contest which awarded her prize money of $13, but it wasn’t until much later that she achieved commercial success. She worked in a series of temporary jobs so she could write at night, despite the fact that her mother insisted on her becoming a secretary in order to earn a steady income. She enrolled at California State University, but later transferred to UCLA, where she took writing courses. It was here that she gained recognition from one of the one of the Writers Guild teachers, who encouraged her to attend a six week workshop called Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, which was held in Pennsylvania.

She continued to write her stories, and gained national recognition when her story “Speech Sound” won the Hugo Award in 1984. The following year, another story “Bloodchild” won the Hugo Award, the Locus Award and the Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Novelette. She then travelled to the Amazon rainforest to conduct research for her next novels and published many books and stories including the Xenogenesis trilogy, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. In 1995, she was awarded the MacArthur Foundation fellowship, which included a cash prize of $295,000. She was the first science fiction writer to be honored with this grant, which is often known as the “genius grant”.

In 1999, after the death of her mother, Octavia Butler moved to Washington. Her recent novel “The Parable of the Talents” won the Science Fiction Writers of America’s “Nebula Award” so she planned to write four more parables of a similar nature. However, this did not come to fruition, and Octavia instead published a less serious novel called “Fledgling” in 2005, which was the last of her novels to be published. Until her death at the age of 58 in February 2006, she taught at Clarion’s Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop. Shortly before her death, she was inducted into Chicago State University’s International Black Writers Hall of Fame.

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