Octavia Butler (1947-2006) was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Her father was a shoeshiner who died when she was a baby and her mother worked as a maid in order to support the family. According to the shy daydreamer who was later diagnosed as dyslexic: "I was writing my own little stories and when I was 12, I was watching a bad science fiction movie called 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."
She described herself as "comfortably asocial—a hermit in the middle of Seattle [where she moved in 1999] —a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive."
Butler's most popular work is Kindred, a time-travel novel in which a black woman from 1976 Southern California is transported back to the violent days of slavery before the Civil War. Kindred was repeatedly rejected by publishers, many of whom could not understand how a science fiction novel could be set on a plantation in the antebellum South. Butler stuck to her social justice vision - "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you" - and finally found a publisher who paid her a $5,000 advance for Kindred.
She remains the only science fiction writer to receive one of the vaunted "genius grants" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a hard-earned $295,000 windfall in 1995 that followed years of poverty and personal struggles with shyness and self-doubt.
- 2000: Lifetime achievement award in writing from the PEN American Center
- 1999: Nebula Award for Best Novel - Parable of the Talents
- 1995: MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant
- 1985: Hugo Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
- 1985: Locus Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
- 1985: Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
- 1984: Nebula Award for Best Novelette - Bloodchild
- 1984: Hugo Award for Best Short Story - Speech Sounds
- 1980: Creative Arts Award, L.A. YWCA
- 1994: Nebula Award for Best Novel - Parable of the Sower
- 1987: Nebula Award for Best Novelette - The Evening and the Morning and the Night
- 1967: Fifth Place, Writer's Digest Short Story Contest
Excerpt from Kindred
Online story: Bloodchild
Online story: Speech Sounds
Online story: Amnesty
Online story: The Book of Martha
NPR Essay on a World without Racism
Democracy Now! interview: Octavia Butler on Race, Global Warming and Religion
New York Times obituary