Octavia E. Butler is hailed as one of the great science fiction authors and is a multiple recipient of the Hugo and Nebula awards in the field. In 1995, Butler became the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly called the “Genius Grant.” Butler is known for blending science fiction with African American spiritualism and has been nicknamed the “Godmother of Afrofuturism.”
Octavia Estelle Butler was born in Pasadena, California, on June 22, 1947, and raised there by her widowed mother. Growing up in the racially integrated community of Pasadena allowed Butler to experience cultural and ethnic diversity in the midst of racial segregation. Extremely shy as a child, Butler found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and writing.
At age 12, as she watched the telefilm Devil Girl from Mars (1954), she concluded that she could write a better story, and began writing science fiction as a teenager. After graduating from John Muir High School in 1965, Butler worked during the day and attended Pasadena City College (PCC) at night. As a freshman at PCC, she won a college-wide short-story contest, earning her first income ($15) as a writer. While participating in a local writer’s workshop, Harlan Ellison encouraged her to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction, where she met the writer Samuel R. Delany, who became a longtime friend.
By the late 1970s she was able to pursue writing full-time, and her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards soon followed. Butler also taught writer’s workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington state. She died of a stroke at age 58 on February 24, 2006. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library. In March 2019, Butler’s alma mater, Pasadena City College, announced the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship for students enrolled in the Pathways program and committed to transfer to four-year institutions. NASA named the 2021 landing site of the Perseverance rover in Jezero crater on Mars the “Octavia E. Butler Landing” in her honor.
“Afrofuturism,” is a term coined by Mark Dery to describe “speculative fiction that treats African American themes and addresses African American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture,” which much of Butler’s work does. For example, Wild Seed, of the Patternist series, is considered to particularly fit ideas of Afrofuturist thematic concerns, as the narrative of two immortal Africans, Doro and Anyanwu, features science fiction technologies and an alternate anti-colonialist history of seventeenth century America.
Several of her works are currently being adapted for television and film. Dawn is currently being adapted for television by Ava DuVernay. A television series based on Wild Seed is in the works for Amazon Prime Video by Viola Davis’ company. FX has committed to an 8-episode television series based on Kindred, with a screenplay written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Issa Rae and J.J. Abrams are working on Fledgling for HBO Max. Parable of the Sower is soon to be a major motion picture release by A24 directed by Garrett Bradley. Kindred and Parable of the Sower have been adapted as graphic novels by author Damien Duffy and artist John Jennings, who also plan on releasing an adaptation of Parable of the Talents.