Octavia Butler Biography

Octavia Butler Biography

Octavia Butler is one of the few African American women to become known for writing 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 Xenogenesis 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • 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,” which features a planet full of aliens that implant their eggs into humans, 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 ancestors, who are slaves. 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.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

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Octavia Butler Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

Butler attracted the attention of science-fiction fans with her Patternist series of five novels...

(The entire section is 407 words.)

Octavia Butler Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

Octavia Butler Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 by a black writer, Butler thought her aunt might be right.

Her first money for writing was the prize she won during her first year at Pasadena City College. Several years followed with no further success, but a breakthrough occurred when she attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the age of twenty-three. Here she sold two stories to writer-editors who were teaching there, one of which, “Crossover,” was subsequently published.

During the next five years she continued to write. She supported herself with menial jobs, getting up at three

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Octavia Butler Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 436 words.)

Octavia Butler Biography

(Novels for Students)

Octavia Estelle Butler was born in Pasadena, California, on June 22, 1947, the daughter of Laurice and Octavia Margaret (Guy) Butler. Her...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Octavia Butler Biography

(Novels for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 346 words.)