By Taylre Rene Malloy~Self-Love Literature Contributing Writer
“All that you Change,
The only lasting truth
God is Change.”
-Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents
At the tender age of 9, Octavia Butler ascended into her destiny. Endowed with a keen ability to imagine fictional worlds far beyond the limitations of society, Butler left an influential ripple within the science fiction universe for generations to come. The beauty in her literary career lies in the prophetic notion that Butler remembers the exact moment she decided to become a science fiction writer. After critiquing the 1954 film “Devil Girl from Mars,” Octavia’s exact words were “Geez, I can write a better story than that!” Only to second this assertion by stating, “somebody got paid for writing that story!” If they could, she decided, then she could, as well. Thus her love affair with science fiction began.
Born in Pasadena, California, on June 22, 1947, Octavia Butler would later go on to become a leading paradigm-shifter as an African American woman in the realm of science fiction. Known to be a literary genre dominated by the white male majority, Butler did not let the limitations society placed on her hinder her ability to create brilliant stories and forge new literary landscapes. Like many African American writers within this era, her novels and short stories bend time as her writing sparked mass controversy.
Challenging the genre’s overall reliance on white male protagonists, Butler successfully reshaped the narrative of what a “traditional” science fiction writer should look like, thus making the genre more accessible to all readers of any ethnic background. Believing her central audience should include everyone, and most importantly that the reach of her audience should not be limited based on her ethnic background, Butler aspired to uplift the voices of all through her writing. Below are three reasons why Octavia Butler’s literary legacy makes her the Mother of Science Fiction and Afrofuturism.
Her concepts and wildly original ideas made her a literary genius. There is no doubt in the idea that Octavia Butler possessed a sixth sense when it came to character creation and world building. Fusing elements of both science fiction and Afro-futurism, Octavia Butler possessed an imagination that was truly ahead of her time. Inspiring writers of all races, genders, and social-economical statuses, Butler’s writing defies the odds by proving that Black writers can’t be boxed in or limited to one specific genre. Without Butler, the world of Sci-Fi literature would very likely be a dull, monochromatic place in which only a few voices dominate. In so many words, Butler’s devotion to defying the norm and reshaping the literary constructs placed upon her by society quickly became infused into her destiny, as she would later go on to inspire writers and readers of all backgrounds worldwide by becoming the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.
Her prolific writing abilities spawn from her own experiences and childhood. Butler’s love affair with writing began at a young age making her a child prodigy. Describing herself at a young age as “ugly and stupid, clumsy, and socially hopeless,” due to her crippling shyness and dyslexia, Butler spent many of her days at the local Pasadena library. It was here within the cozy walls of the library that Butler’s deep love for reading, and eventually writing, sparked. After falling in love with the idea of owning a typewriter, she once pleaded with her mother for a Remington typewriter and later “pecked stories two-fingered,” until she learned to type properly. She also spent many hours filling the pages of her notebook as much as possible, and it became no surprise that Butler was destined for a career in writing from day one.
“I was attracted to science fiction because it was so wide open. I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.”
Her writing literally reshaped society and the science fiction genre as we know it. Determined to construct new worlds in which the prejudices she faced could be reexamined, countered, and neutralized, Butler’s writing reflected the social issues plaguing America while also absorbing readers into a new world of possibility. Transcending elements of both time and reality, because of her devotion to reshape the narrative, Butler’s writing has served as a beacon within the literary world for many generations to come. Whether you’re just now getting acquainted with Butler’s work or are already familiar with her complete collection, her dystopian stories hold depth. Her ingenious prose, reflected through the lens of her astonishingly original black female characters, remains as important today as it was nearly 50 years ago when she sold her first story. It is for these very aspects of her literary career (and many more) that easily make her the Mother of Science Fiction and Afro-futurism. Her literary legacy will never be forgotten.