OCTAVIA BUTLER Biography - Writers


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Octavia Estelle Butler is "the first African-American woman to gain popularity               
and critical acclaim as a major science fiction writer" (Hine 208). She was born             
on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California, to Laurice and Octavia M. (Guy) Butler.           
Of five pregnancies, Butler was the only child that her mother was able to carry             
to term. Her father, who worked as a shoeshiner, died when Butler was very young.           
Most of her memories are actually stories that she heard from her mother and                 
grandmother. Her mother and she lived in a very racially mixed neighborhood. The             
unifying factor was the struggle to make ends meet. Butler "never personally                 
experienced the more rigid forms of a segregated society" (Smith 144). She was               
very shy in school and describes herself as a daydreamer. These factors made it             
very difficult to succeed in school. She overcame dyslexia, and "began writing               
when [she] was 10 years old...to escape loneliness and boredom" (Locher 104). At             
age twelve, she became interested in science fiction.                                       
Butler received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena City College.             
She then attended California State University, Los Angeles and the University of             
California, Los Angeles. She credits her success to nonacademic programs, though.           
Two of these programs are the Open Door Program of the Screen Writers Guild of               
America and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop. While attending school,           
Butler held down a lot of odd jobs. Her work experiences come through in the                 
character of Dana in her novel Kindred. Butler also spends time researching                 
developments in biology, the physical sciences, and genetics.                               
Butler has won several awards for her writing. In 1984, she won a Hugo Award for             
her short story "Speech Sounds." In 1985, she won the Hugo for her novella                   
Bloodchild, which also won the 1984 Nebula Award. The Hugo and Nebula Awards are             
considered science fiction's highest awards. They are decided on by other                   
science fiction writers and fans. In 1995, Butler won the MacArthur Foundation "genius       
grant" which pays $295,000 over five years.                                                 
Butler's Patternists series, published between 1976 and 1984, tells of a society             
that is run by a specially-bred group of telepaths. This is an elite group who               
are mentally linked to one another in a hierarchical pattern. These telepaths               
are trying to create a superhuman race. This series includes the books                       
Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, Wild Seed, and Clay's Ark.                         
Patternmaster deals with the struggle between brawn and brain. It also comments             
on class structure and the role of women. Wild Seed "incorporates a great deal               
of the Black experience, including slavery" (Hine 209). Dawn, Adulthood Rites,               
and Imago are the three novels that make up the Xenogenesis trilogy. These                   
stories are about the near destruction of humankind through nuclear war and gene-swapping   
by extraterrestrials. The extraterrestials observe the humans as being                       
hierarchical, which causes them to be prejudiced, and to have class divisions               
and conflict. These characteristics make it inevitable that mankind will                     
eventually destroy itself without the aliens' help.                                         
Octavia Butler has been well received by the critics. Burton Raffel had this to             
say about Xenogenesis: the reader is "initially drawn on by the utterly                     
unexpected power and subtly complex intelligence of her extraordinary trilogy               
Xenogenesis, but sustained and even compelled by the rich dramatic textures, the             
profound psychological insights" (454). "Butler's work is both fascinating and               
highly unusual," Rosemary Stevenson writes; "character development, human                   
relationships, and social concerns predominate over intergalactic hardware" (208).           
"I'm not writing for some noble purpose, I just like telling a good story. If               
what I write about helps others understand this world we live in, so much the               
better for all of us," Octavia Butler told Robert McTyre. "Every story I write               
adds to me a little, changes me a little, forces me to reexamine an attitude or             
belief, causes me to research and learn, helps me to understand people and grow