Octavia Estelle Butler was born in Pasadena, California on June 22, 1947 and dies at her home in Lake Forest Park, Washington on February 24, 2006, she was 58. She was raised by her mother after her father died while she was very young. Her mother supported them primarily by working as a maid and Octavia worked odd jobs while working on her writing after she received her associate degree from Pasadena City College. Standing out for being a black woman science fiction writer, she went on to write a dozen novels, gaining widespread critical acclaim and winning two Hugo and one Nebula award. Octavia was also the only science fiction writer to be awarded the Genius Grant. She died unexpectedly due to a fall at her home and left no children.
Undoubtedly her writing was influenced by the civil rights struggle during the sixties. She used science fiction not to tell fantastic stories, but to speak of the human condition as she had witnessed it. Many of her stories centered on strong black female characters. Kindred is the prime example of this. Dana, the main character in Kindred, is based on a combination of herself and her mother. Specifically, Dana’s working for a temp agency parallels the odd jobs Octavia worked while keeping a ridged writing schedule, and her mothers work as a maid is reflects Dana’s position on the plantation.
“When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read,” Ms. Butler told The New York Times in 2000. “The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”
A common theme through most of her writing is family and society hierarchy. I would imagine that this influence came from her lack of an immediate family during her life. Also, being shy and awkward as a child was influenced by the actions of children on the playground. In her NPR ESSAY – UN RACISM CONFERENCE she says, “Simple peck-order bullying 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.” This theme is also a big part of Kindred.
“Octavia Estelle Butler.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 302014.
Fox, Margalit. “Octavia E. Butler, Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 58.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Feb. 2006. Web. 30 Aug. 2014.
Butler, Octavia E. “NPR ESSAY – UN RACISM CONFERENCE.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2014.