Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Octavia Estelle Butler grew up in a manner that reflected some of the hardest realities routinely faced by African Americans. Her father, who died when she was very young, had shined shoes for a living; her mother, who had been taken out of school at the age of ten, supported herself and her daughter after her husband’s death by working as a maid while leaving the primary responsibilities of child care to her own mother, a devout Baptist.
Although Butler felt comfortable in the company of her adult relatives, she was profoundly uncomfortable with the social system with which she and they had to contend. She was a misfit from the very beginning, unusually tall for her age and chronically shy. Further isolated from her peer group by strict religious prohibitions, she took refuge in reading and became a devotee of science fiction. She began writing when she was about ten years old and began to experiment with her own science fiction at twelve, later recalling that the abysmal quality of the risible B-picture Devil Girl from Mars (1954) convinced her she could write better stories herself.
Her family could not imagine that her ambition to write was practicable, and her teachers refused to support her choice of science fiction as a medium. She attended Pasadena City College and then the California State College at Los Angeles; she was unable to study creative writing there, but attended evening writing classes at the University of...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Octavia Butler’s father died when she was an infant; she was raised by her widowed mother in California. A shy, quiet child, she was bullied by her classmates because she was dark-skinned and unusually tall. She began writing imaginative stories in a notebook, retreating into her own solitary world. She was a voracious reader; her mother, a domestic worker, brought home books that she had found in the trash. Young Octavia was disappointed to find no African American characters and only stereotyped portrayals of women characters in the science-fiction stories she favored. When she was ten years old, she began writing her stories on a portable typewriter, a gift from her mother.
Although Butler’s early stories were routinely rejected by magazines, she persisted in her writing. A short story she wrote as a freshman at Pasadena City College won first prize in a school contest. She also attended California State University, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Los Angeles. For several years she did factory and office work, getting up early in the morning to write. She continued to get rejection slips. She credits the Open Door Program of the Screen Writers Guild of America and the Clarion, Pennsylvania, Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop for giving her the critical feedback she needed. She sold her first story when she was twenty-three....
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Butler brought a unique perspective to the genre of science fiction, usually the domain of white male writers. As an African American woman, she was attentive to issues of gender, race, and social class. However, she did not view these narrowly as black/white or male/female relationships but extended these explorations to include differences in sexual orientation and even extraterrestrial/human relationships. A consistent motif in her work was her interest in family relationships, especially the painful experiences of her female characters who must choose between their own desires and the needs of loved ones.
Critics praised her attention to character development and her inquiry into the moral choices that confront humanity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Butler dramatized the complex interaction among the past, present, and future, seeing the acceptance of difference and tolerance for others as a condition for the survival of the human race.
(The entire section is 150 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Octavia Estelle Butler can be categorized as a black feminist science-fiction writer, but although those labels partially describe her, her work goes beyond narrow categorization. After Butler’s father died when she was a baby, she was raised by her mother and grandmother. Growing up without a father or siblings early gave a solitary focus to her life, which was somewhat alleviated by the bedtime stories her mother read to her until the age of six. At that point she began to read on her own. Childhood reading included castaway books her mother rescued while working as a maid, as well as the books she found in the children’s section of the Pasadena library. At the age of twelve, when she learned that she could not enter the adult section of the library, she discovered science-fiction magazines and was instantly taken with the genre. One of her favorite authors was Zenna Henderson, who used young women’s viewpoints to write about telepathy.
In 1959 Butler saw the 1954 film Devil Girl from Mars, which inspired her to begin writing what later became her Patternist series. Painfully shy during her childhood and adolescence, Butler found solace in writing in a notebook. During these early years, however, she despaired of writing well enough to have her work accepted for publication, a fear that was confirmed by her aunt’s telling her that a Negro could not earn a living as a writer. Having never seen a printed work she knew to have been written...
(The entire section is 843 words.)
Octavia Butler was born in Pasadena, California, on June 22, 1947, the only child of Laurice and Octavia Butler. Her father died when she was a baby, and she was raised by her mother and grandmother. Butler was a shy and solitary child who took refuge in reading. Her mother, a maid with a limited education, instilled in Butler a love of books and learning. From the age of ten, Butler knew that she wanted to be a writer. Despite the fact that she was unaware of the work of any black authors, she was determined to publish and began submitting stories to magazines in her teens. Her teachers gave her little encouragement, expressing no interest in Butler’s science fiction themes.
Butler attended Pasadena City College and California State College in Los Angeles, after which she took several office, factory, and warehouse jobs. She continued to write and submit stories, which continued to be rejected by publishers. An important turn in Butler’s career as a writer came when she attended the Clarion Science Fiction workshop in 1970. The workshop resulted in the publication of her first short story, ‘‘Crossover,’’ in a Clarion anthology. She did not publish any more of her work until she sold her first novel, Patternmaster, the first installment in her Patternist series, to Doubleday in 1976.
Over the next decade, Butler came out with four more Patternist novels, as well as a time travel novel about slavery, Kindred, which was...
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Octavia Estelle Butler was born in Pasadena, California, on June 22, 1947, the daughter of Laurice and Octavia Margaret (Guy) Butler. Her father died when she was a baby, and her mother supported the family by working as a maid. Butler loved reading science fiction stories as a child, and she soon started writing them herself. At the age of thirteen she was submitting her own stories to magazines.
Butler attended Pasadena City College, and while a student there she was awarded fifth prize in the Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest. She received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 and went on to attend California State University, Los Angeles, in 1969, and the University of California, Los Angeles.
In 1969, Butler entered the Open Door Program of the Screen Writers’ Guild, where one of her tutors was Harlan Ellison. At Ellison’s suggestion she enrolled in the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, held in Pennsylvania. As a result of taking the workshop, she sold two short stories. Deciding she wanted to be a writer, she supported herself with low-paying jobs such as dishwashing and cleaning, while continuing to write, often getting up at three o’clock in the morning to do so. When she was laid off from a telephone sales job in 1974, she decided to use the time to write her first novel, the science fiction tale Patternmaster, which she completed in less than a year and sold to Doubleday. Patternmaster was...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
IntroductionMale pregnancy? If you read Octavia Butler’s story “Bloodchild,” you can find out all about that along with a planet inhabited by insects that implant their eggs into humans. Butler is one of the few African-American women to write science fiction. The inspiration for her earliest work is drawn from the bad sci-fi movies she watched as an adolescent. Butler thought she could write better stories, and she without a doubt succeeded, specializing in sci-fi serials such as the Patternist series, the Xenogensis trilogy, and the Parable of the Sower series. In 2006, a scholarship was established in her name to help writers of color attend the Clarion workshops that so greatly helped Butler become successful.
- Octavia Butler was the first science fiction writer to be granted a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.
- At one point, Butler went seven years without writing a new book. She broke through her writer’s block by penning the vampire novel Fledgling.
- Butler wrote the story “Bloodchild” to help cure her fear of bot flies.
- Interestingly enough, Butler did not consider her most popular book, Kindred, to be science fiction at all. It follows a modern day African-American woman as she travels back in time to meet her slave ancestors. No scientific explanation, however, for the time travel is ever given.
- There is a discrepancy as to how Octavia Butler died. Some reports say that she hit her head on her walkway, but the cause of death is most often reported as a stroke.
All Resources by Category
Critical Survey of Long Fiction
Octavia Butler - Contemporary Literary Criticism
The Patternist Series - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
Wild Seed - Literary Characters
Xenogenesis - Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature Study Guide (eNotes)
The Science-Fiction Novel (Critical Survey of Long Fiction)
Butler was born in Pasadena, California, in 1947, and grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood. An only child, she was very young when her father died, and her mother worked as a maid to support the two of them. She was raised as a strict Baptist, a faith that forbade dancing or makeup. For solace and escape, she turned to reading. She became a fan of science fiction magazines; inspired by the possibilities of the genre, she was only twelve when she began writing the first version of what would eventually become her "Patternmaster" novels.
Butler received an associate's degree from Pasadena City College in 1968 and entered California State University in Los Angeles the following year. She left school, however, after discovering there was no creative writing major. She attended several workshops in the late 1960s, including the Writers Guild of America. There she met noted science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who became Butler's mentor and helped her gain admittance to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in 1970. The six-week course introduced her to several well-known writers.
She supported herself with the kinds of menial jobs that Dana Franklin describes in Kindred. In 1976 she published her first novel, Patternmaster, the first in a series of works describing a society whose members have developed telepathic powers over the course of centuries. Butler went on to publish five novels in this series.
(The entire section is 346 words.)