The literary legend Octavia E. Butler was born on this day
in 1947! On what would have been her 70th birthday, we take a look
back at Octavia’s trailblazing work as a black lesbian in literature and
To this date, Octavia Butler is the only science fiction author to ever be awarded the prestigious MacArthur Genius Grant (x).
On June 22, 1947, Octavia Estelle Butler was born in
Pasadena, California. Her father died when she was 7 years old and she ended up
being raised by her mother and grandmother in a strict Baptist household. As an adult, Octavia recalls being an extremely shy child and feeling a deeply rooted sense of alienation; this led Octavia to spending her days at the
Pasadena Central Library where she developed her passion for books and writing
and began reading science fiction magazines such as Amazing Stories and Galaxy
Science Fiction. In 1954, a young Octavia
gleefully watched the television movie Devil
Girl from Mars only to be struck with the idea that she was capable of
writing a better story than what was being shown on TV; at the age of 12, she
sat down at her Remington typewriter and wrote her very first story.
Octavia proudly poses with her collection of work in the Science Fiction section of a book store (x).
After graduating from John Muir High School in 1965, Octavia
attended night school at Pasadena City College and began to seriously think
about pursuing writing as a career. While attending various writing workshops,
her writing caught the eye of famous science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. With Harlan’s support, Octavia published her first novel, Kindred, in 1979. The novel follows a
black woman who time travels back to the pre-Civil War American South and helped
put Octavia’s name on the map as an author who was not afraid to use the
traditional science fiction conventions to talk about blackness in America.
Photographed by her friend Leslie Howie, Octavia stands with her pet dog Luke at the beach (x).
Octavia wrote over twenty books in her lifetime and broke
genre barriers when she received awards such as the MacArthur Genius Grant in
1995 and a Hugo Award in 1984. Tragically, Octavia suffered a stroke outside of
her home on February 24, 2006 and passed away at the age of 59. Although
Octavia never publicly discussed her own sexuality, gender nonconformity and a
questioning of power structures can be seen across her novels and it was
confirmed after her death in her obituary that she was in fact a lesbian. She
was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010 and
today is remembered, as she would have wanted, as “a pessimist, a feminist
always, a Black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water
combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.“