Octavia Estelle Butler was born June 22, 1947
in Pasadena, California. She was the only child of Octavia Margaret
(Guy) Butler and Laurice Butler. Shortly after Butler was born, her
father died leaving Butler's mother and grandmother to raise her.
"My mother read me bedtime stories until I was six years old. It
was a sneak attack on her part. As soon as I really got to like the
stories, she said, 'Here's the book. Now you read.' She didn't know
what she was setting us both up for." Butler started writing at the
young age of 10. She says of her writing so early, "I didn't realize
then that writing was supposed to be work, it was too much fun." In an
interview with Frances M. Beal in the Black Scholar, Butler tells
about her first science fiction story. "I was writing my own little
stories and when I was 12, I was watching a bad science fiction movie [Devil
Girl from Mars] and decided that I could write a better story than
that. And I turned off the TV and proceeded to try, and I've been
writing science fiction ever since." That first science fiction story
was the basis for her first published novel, Patternmaster.
All through Junior High and High School, even
college, Butler was a very shy person. She would not get up in front
of class to do anything, her teachers thought this was because she didn't
do the work and was unprepared. One time, she even went as far as
to record her presentation on a tape and turn that in instead. During
her years in school, there were three teachers who made a critical difference
in Butler's development. The first was Butler's home economics teacher
in seventh grade, Miss Peters. Peters took the time to read Butler's
stories and offer encouragement. The second teacher was Mr. Pfaff,
an eighth grade science teacher who typed her first story, "typed it the
way it was supposed to be, with no holes erased into the paper and no strike-overs...He
even corrected my terrible spelling and punctuation. To this day
I'm amazed and grateful." The third teacher was Butler's first Black teacher.
Miss Buggs taught ninth grade English, social studies, and drama.
Butler remembers her as the only teacher who truly understood how much
presenting material orally terrified the young student.
She graduated from high school in 1965.
She then started night classes at Pasadena City College, by second semester
she had signed up for a full course load. She finished the two-year
degree program in 1968. Then she started attending California State
College, but was dissatisfied with the creative writing courses there so
she withdrew from college. While working a number of odd jobs to
support herself, she took evening writing courses at UCLA and began attending
writing workshops at the Screen Writers Guild of America, West and Clarion
Science Fiction Writers Workshop. About her writing, she says "I
write about people who do extraordinary things. It just turned out
that it was called science fiction." Two of her short stories were
bought while she was attending Clarion, however she didn't sell anything
else for another five years. With the resolve shown by some of her
characters, she continued to write in spite of rejection by publishers,
financial hardship, and discouragement from family and friends who advised
her to get a "real" job.
Her first novel was published in 1977, after that
first novel, she has had less and less trouble getting her work published.
She now has 10 novels and a book of short stories. In her book of short
stories, she has two essays titled "Positive Obsession" and "Furor Scribendi".
"Furor Scribendi" is an essay for aspiring writers. She says in her
essay "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable.
Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not...Forget talent.
If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don't have it, it doesn't
matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning
is more dependable than talent... Finally, don't worry about imagination.
You have all the imagination you need...Persist." I think that Octavia
Butler is one of the best science fiction writers. She has a style
all to her self. She combines racism and bigotry with true science
fiction. She has been writing now for about 40 years. She has
won many awards including the Hugo Award twice, the Nebula Award which
are the two highest awards for a science fiction author, the Locus Award
and in 1995 she was the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant.
She describes herself as "a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist always,
a Black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water combination
of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive." Octavia
Butler has the skill and frankness to strip away the myths and write about
reality and the real problems with the human race and with society as it
is now. This bluntness is one of the reasons I find her work so intriguing.
I find compelling about her writing the ideas in her books are ideas I
have not read before, and that is a difficult thing to do, to deviate from
the norms. I find her courage, persistence and positive obsession
very inspiring, and I hope that through reading her works, I become more
like her and I am able to find my positive obsession for truly she is an
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