Octavia Butler grew up in Pasadena, California. Her father died when she was only seven years old, and her mother and grandmother raised her. Her mother worked as a housemaid for rich white families, and Butler was aware of racial segregation and discrimination from a young age. She was also a shy child who had difficulty making friends and coping with social situations, and she spent hours at the public library, reading widely but focusing especially on fairy tales and science fiction. She also began to write as a young girl, even though her aunt told her that an African-American woman couldn't be a writer.
Butler's determination to write continued through her high school years and after graduation, when she took all kinds of jobs to put herself through two years of college and then to support herself while she wrote. In college, she encountered the Black Power Movement and its outspokenness against African-American submission.
As a young writer, Butler tried to model her work on the popular science-fiction writing of her day, which tended to be written by white men. But she failed to find success. Finally, she learned that she had to be true to her own life and incorporate her own experiences. She began writing from her own perspective, choosing to still write science fiction but with strong African-American female characters and themes that include a critique of hierarchy, survival as heroism, injustice, women's rights, and alternative communities. Her stories thereby took on greater power and meaning.