4 minute read

Octavia Estelle Butler Biography

Nationality: American. Born: Pasadena, California, 1947. Education: Pasadena City College, A.A. 1968. Awards: Fifth prize, Writer's Digest Short Story Contest, 1967; Creative Arts Achievement award (Los Angeles YWCA), 1980; Hugo award (World Science Fiction Convention), 1984, 1985; Nebula award (Science Fiction Writers of America), 1985; Locus award (Locus magazine), 1985; Best novelette award (Science Fiction Chronicle Reader), 1985; MacArthur fellowship, 1995.



Patternmaster. New York, Doubleday, 1976.

Mind of My Mind. New York, Doubleday, 1977.

Survivor. New York, Doubleday, 1978.

Kindred. New York, Doubleday, 1979; second edition, Boston, Beacon Press, 1988.

Wild Seed. New York, Doubleday, 1980.

Clay's Ark. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1984.

Dawn: Xenogenesis. New York, Warner Books, 1987.

Adulthood Rites: Xenogenesis. New York, Warner Books, 1988.

Imago. New York, Warner Books, 1989.

The Evening and the Morning and the Night. Eugene, Oregon, Pulphouse, 1991.

Parable of the Sower. New York, Warner Books, 1995.

Parable of the Talents. New York, Seven Stories Press, 1998.

Lilith's Brood. New York, Warner Books, 2000.

Short Stories

Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995.


Contributor, Tales from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine: Short Stories for Young Adults, edited by Sheila Williams and Cynthia Manson. San Diego, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

Contributor, Omni Visions One, edited by Ellen Datlow. Greensboro, North Carolina, Omni Books, 1993.

Contributor, Invaders, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. NewYork, Ace Books, 1993.

Contributor, Women of Wonder: the Classic Years—Science Fiction by Women from the 1940s to the 1970s, edited by Pamela Sargent. HBH/Harvest, 1995.

Contributor, Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology and the Future, edited by Jeanne Schinto. Persea, 1996.


Critical Studies:

Octavia Butler by Marleen S. Barr, Mercer Island, Washington, Starmont House, 1986; Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, edited by Larry McCaffery, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1990; Ecofeminist Literary Criticism: Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy, edited by Greta Gaard and Patrick D. Murphy, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1990; American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers by Clare L. Datnow, Springfield, New Jersey, Enslow Publishers, 1999; A Companion Text for Kindred by Janet Giannotti, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1999.

* * *

The many efforts by literary critics to define the work of Octavia E. Butler speak to their challenge and the author's complexity. Among the categories Butler has fallen into: science fiction writer, African-American writer, feminist writer, and speculative fiction writer. But none seem to capture the eerie depth of Butler's work, which includes more than 10 works.

Butler has regularly garnered praise from literary critics, largely for her prose style and powerful female characters. The more Butler creates a character that is hard to pigeonhole, the more Butler herself displays a unique quality of writing. Her focus on issues of ethics, race, and gender are imbedded into her science fiction; but these issues do not consume the stories. Many critics have praised her for a social inquiry of sexual equality, and they have noted her intensely interesting focus on independent characters and the need for unity.

Four of her five earliest books have been dedicated to the Patternist series: Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, and Wild Seed. These books are about telepaths who are the central power figures on Earth. They are an integrated society, and central characters are often black women. This Patternist community started when Mary created a connection between mental abilities and actives who needed her help. There are many people needing help in these books, but they are often those struggling with latent mental abilities, or those who have been subsumed by diseases from travel. This new society based on mental acuity is also an imagined look at what the world would be like if men and women were truly equal. In Patternmaster, for example, a central female character becomes a man's mentor, has his baby, and saves him from evil forces without having any real desire to marry him. This is Butler's strong suit—imagining how a character would act in an equal society, how her decisions would be different, how real power would be an impetus to think individually and for others. Butler is certainly a proponent of love, but in this equal arrangement, her main characters are not about to simper around the parlor waiting for a man to take action.

In academic circles Butler is best known for her book Kindred about a contemporary African-American writer named Dana who is called back in time by her great-great-grandfather. He is a white plantation owner, and needs Dana to keep him from death. Without Dana's protection he will die, and consequently, Dana will not be born, either. This complex interconnection of races, and the mix of time periods, led to much praise for this book.

Parable of Talents, a more recent book, continues the story originated in Parable of the Sower. The story is set in 2032, when religious extremists have won government office. Lauren Olamina embraces another religious belief: Earthseed. Olamina sees herself as a future leader in this religion that focuses on mastering change, and sees truth in the stars. Parable of Talents shows the rift between Lauren and her daughter over this faith. The book has been highly praised for its eloquent writing and depth of character.

—Maureen Aitken

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) Biography