Octavia Estelle Butler (1947-2006) was an American science fiction writer, and the first black woman in her field. She was
born and raised in Altadena, California by her mother, Octavia M. Butler, a maid. Her father Laurice, a shoeshiner, died when
she was a baby. When she was young she was known as Estelle, or Junie (short for Junior), to differentiate herself from her
mother. Later, though she used Octavia, she was adamant about including her middle initial in published settings.
A shy, only child, Octavia began writing at 10, and turned to science fiction by 12. She often cited Devil Girl from Mars,
a movie she saw on television, as her inspiration: “I thought, I can write a better story than that.” Despite being told
repeatedly by family and friends that writing science fiction was not a career for a black person Octavia pursued creative
writing courses at Pasadena City College, and won a student short story writing contest in 1966. She graduated with an Associate’s
degree and went on to California State University, Los Angeles, where she studied a variety of subjects, but never completed
In 1969 Octavia was admitted to the Screen Writers’ Guild Open Door program where she caught the attention of Harlan Ellison.
Ellison encouraged Octavia to attend the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in science fiction and fantasy at Clarion State College
in Pennsylvania, which she did in the summer of 1970. There she published her first story, “Crossover,” in Clarion, an anthology
of student works. She also sold her short story “Childfinder” to Harlan Ellison, to be part of the now infamously unpublished
Last Dangerous Visions anthology.
For the next five years Octavia wrote and supported herself with menial jobs, but did not sell any of her writing. Finally,
in 1976, Doubleday published Octavia’s first novel, Patternmaster, followed shortly by Mind of my Mind (1977) and Survivor
(1978). These three are the first of five related novels known as Butler’s Patternist series, based on her earliest childhood
science fiction. Her best known work, Kindred, appeared in 1979, and has become a standard in many high school and college
As Octavia gained popularity she began to attend and speak at science fiction conventions and at conferences. Though still
incredibly shy she challenged herself to public speaking and appeared at many colleges and events. In the late 1980s she published
her Xenogenesis trilogy, and then in the 1990s published Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. In 1995, Octavia
became the first science fiction writer to receive a prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant. Her last novel, Fledgling, was
published in 2005. In all, Octavia published 12 novels and one volume of short works. She received 2 Hugos and 2 Nebulas.
In 2000 Octavia moved to Lake Forest Park, Washington, fulfilling a longtime dream of living in the Northwest. She passed
away suddenly after a fall outside her home in 2006, probably from a stroke or related head trauma, at the age of 58.
8000 pieces in 354 boxes, 1 volume, 2 binders, and 18 broadsides.
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