- NAME: Octavia E. Butler
- OCCUPATION: Author
- BIRTH DATE: June 22, 1947
- DEATH DATE: February 24, 2006
- Did You Know?: Octavia E. Butler was dyslexic.
- Did You Know?: Octavia E. Butler became the first science-fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1995.
- EDUCATION: Pasadena City College, California State University, University of California at Los Angeles
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Pasadena, California
- PLACE OF DEATH: Seattle, Washington
- Full Name: Octavia Estelle Butler
- AKA: Octavia E. Butler
- AKA: Octavia Butler
Best Known For
Octavia Butler aimed to create a new kind of science fiction that allowed the reader to connect to the worlds she created in a human way.
Science fiction author Octavia Butler not only broke boundaries as an African American Women in literature, she also changed the way people viewed and wrote science fiction. Video courtesy of Open Road Media.
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"I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure."
of the Parable series. She continued to write and publish until her death on February 24, 2006, in Seattle, Washington.
Writer Octavia Estelle Butler was born in Pasadena, California, on June 22, 1947, and later broke new ground as a woman and an African-American in the realm of science fiction. Butler thrived in a genre typically dominated by white males. She lost her father at a young age and was raised by her mother. To support the family, her mother worked as a maid.
As a child, Octavia E. Butler was known for her shyness and her impressive height. She was dyslexic, but she didn't let this challenge deter her from developing a love of books. Butler started creating her own stories early on, and she decided to make writing her life's work around the age of 10. She later earned an associate degree from Pasadena City College. Butler also studied her craft with Harlan Ellison at the Clarion Fiction Writers Workshop.
To make ends meet, Butler took all sorts of jobs while maintaining a strict writing schedule. She was known to work for several hours very early in the morning each day. In 1976, Butler published her first novel, Patternmaster. This book was the first in a series of works about a group of people with telepathic powers called Patternists. Other Patternist titles include Mind of My Mind (1977) and Clay's Ark (1984).
In 1979, Butler had a career breakthrough with Kindred. The novel tells the story of a African American woman who travels back in time to save a white slave owner—her own ancestor. In part, Butler drew some inspiration from her mother's work. "I didn't like seeing her go through back doors," she once said, according to The New York Times. "If my mother hadn't put up with all those humiliations, I wouldn't have eaten very well or lived very comfortably. So I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure."
For some writers, science fiction serves as means to delve into fantasy. But for Butler, it largely served as a vehicle to address issues facing humanity. It was this passionate interest in the human experience that imbued her work with a certain depth and complexity. In the mid-1980s, Butler began to receive critical recognition for her work. She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for the best short story of the year, for "Speech Sounds." That same year, the novelette "Bloodchild" won a Nebula Award and later a Hugo.
In the late 1980s, Butler published her Xenogenesis trilogy—Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989). This series of books explores issues of genetics and race.
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They are the famous African-American writers who have fearlessly examined cultural stigmas, provided intimate life details, presented new ideas and created remarkable fiction through literary works. For their prophetic genius, these men and women have received Pulitzer Prizes, NAACP awards and even Nobel Prizes, among other honors. Our list of prominent African-American authors includes Toni Morrison, who has detailed the lives of black characters who struggle with identity amidst racism and hostility; Langston Hughes, a founder of the Harlem Renaissance; and Maya Angelou, who has eloquently chronicled various eras of her life through her autobiographies.
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Explore Biography.com's collection of pioneering African-American women with indelible legacies, including Charlotte E. Ray, Maya Angelou, Maritza Correia, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Mahoney, Oprah Winfrey, Octavia E. Butler and Shirley Chisholm. View full biographies, photos, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
African-American Firsts: Women 55 people in this group