Octavia E. Butler Papers

Huntington Library. Manuscripts Department
Huntington Library. Manuscripts Department
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
(626) 405-2100

Descriptive Summary

Title: Octavia E. Butler Papers
Dates: 1933-2006
Collection Number: mssOEB 1-8000
Creator/Collector: Butler, Octavia E.
Extent: 8000 pieces in 354 boxes, 1 volume, 2 binders, and 18 broadsides.
Repository: Huntington Library. Manuscripts Department
San Marino, California 91108
Abstract: The personal and professional papers of American science fiction author Octavia E. Butler.
Language of Material: English


The collection is open for qualified researchers as of Nov. 1, 2013.

Publication Rights

The literary copyright of materials by Octavia E. Butler is held by the Estate of Octavia E. Butler. Anyone wishing to quote from or publish any manuscript material by Octavia E. Butler must contact the agent listed below. Questions should also be directed to the agent below. Agent contact info: Merrilee Heifetz Writers House 21 West 26th St New York City, NY 10010 heifetz@writershouse.com (212) 685-2605 The copyright for materials by others represented in the collection is held by other parties. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine the current copyright holder and obtain permission from the appropriate parties. The Huntington Library retains the physical rights to the material. In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director, in addition to permission obtained from any copyright holders. For materials by Octavia E. Butler researchers should contact both the library and the agent as listed above for publication permission.

Preferred Citation

Octavia E. Butler Papers. Huntington Library. Manuscripts Department

Acquisition Information

Bequest of Octavia E. Butler. Accessioned August, 2008.

Biography/Administrative History

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 a degree. 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 curricula. 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.

Scope and Content of Collection

The collection consists of five series: Manuscripts, Correspondence, Photographs, Subject Files and Research Materials, and Ephemera. There are 354 boxes, as well as 1 volume, 2 binders, and 18 loose broadside folders. Manuscripts are subdivided into manuscripts by Octavia E. Butler, notecards, diaries, commonplace books, and manuscripts by others. They are arranged alphabetically by author, then title or chronologically within each subseries. Manuscripts by Octavia E. Butler include drafts of all her published works, as well as numerous drafts of complete and partial short stories, one unpublished novel, Blindsight, and several partial drafts of unfinished novels, including Parable of the Trickster. There are also essays and speeches and notes on various research, writing, and domestic subjects. The notecards include both working notes and research notes, as well as notes used for speaking engagaments. The commonplace books are a particularly rich subseries where Octavia compiled working notes for novels and short stories, research, journal entries, notes on daily life and activities, and more. Very little of the contents of the commonplace books are indexed. Manuscripts by others include working copies of short stories from the Clarion workshop of 1970, pre-publication novels, and other short stories, plays, and essays. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name, then chronologically. Notable correspondents include Harlan Ellison, Robin Scott Wilson, Toni Cade Bambara, Vonda N. McIntyre, Greg Bear, Suzy McKee Charnas, Tananrive Due, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Important personal correspondents include Marjorie Rae Nadler, Leslie Howle, Lynn Marron, Sandra Y. Govan, Frances Deutsch Louis, and Victoria Rose. In particular correspondence to and from Victoria Rose, Marjorie Rae Nadler, and Lynn Marron offers insight into Octavia life and writing early in her career. Octavia’s correspondence with her agent at Writer’s House, Inc. and her publishers, including Doubleday and Company, inc, Seven Stories Press, Warner Books, St. Martin’s Press, and Four Wall Eight Windows, often contains great detail about works in progress and marketing decisions. Photographs are arranged chronologically in several groups: loose photos (small), loose photos (large), album pages, and photo album. Highlights include photographs from conventions, speaking engagements, and or book signings, numerous photographs of Ocatvia’s trip to Peru and the Amazon as part of her research for her Xenogenesis trilogy, and photographs from travels in the Southern California desert and north coast, and Washington. The subject files represent Octavia’s arrangement of clippings by topic. Subject headings are taken from the envelopes Octavia used for filing in most cases, and the arrangement largely follows a numbering scheme devised by Octavia. The original envelopes are included in each folder when present. The research materials are other clippings and subject materials that have been arranged by the cataloger, using Octavia’s schema where possible. Together the subject files and research materials are a compendium of topics of interest to Octavia, largely scientific, medical, and anthropological in nature. The ephemera are arranged in 19 subseries, alphabetically. Notable subseries include Awards, Organizations: MacArthur Foundation, Organizations: Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), Publicity and Production, Schools (which includes a variety of juvenilia), Speaking Engagements, and Travel. In addition there are oversize materials, housed separately, for all the above series. Researchers should be sure to search the oversize series for additional materials.

Indexing Terms

Women, authors, American -- 20th Century -- Archives
Women, authors, American -- 21st Century -- Archives
Science fiction -- Societies, etc.
Science fiction -- Periodicals
Science fiction, American -- Women authors
African American women authors -- 20th Century -- Archives
African American women authors -- 21st Century -- Archives
Feminism -- United States
Black nationalism -- United States
American literature -- African American authors
Bambara, Toni Cade
Barnes, Steven, 1952-
Bates, Russell, 1941-
Bear, Greg, 1951-
Bogstad, Janice M., 1950-
Bova, Ben, 1932-
Bradley, Marion Zimmer
Brown, Christy, ǂd 1932-1981
Busby, F. M.
Datlow, Ellen.
Delany, Samuel R.
Due, Tananarive, 1966-
Effinger, George Alec
Elliot, Jeffrey M.
Ellison, Harlan
Smart-Grosvenor, Vertamae
Gomez, Jewelle
Gunn, James E., 1923-
Hampton, Gregory Jerome, 1968-
Hartwell, David G.
Hopkinson, Nalo
Ian, Janis
Le Guin, Ursula K., 1929-
Louis, Frances Deutsch
McCaffrey, Larry, 1946-
McIntyre, Vonda N.
Morrison, Toni
Mosley, Walter
Resnick, Michael D.
Richardson, Blanche
Rowell, Charles H.
Shange, Ntozake
Shawl, Nisi
Skal, David J.
Walker, Alice, 1944-, recipient.
Williams, Sherley Anne, 1944-1999.
Wilson, Robin Scott
Wood, N. Lee
Zaki, Hoda M., 1950-
Charnas, Suzy McKee
Nadler, Marjorie Rae
Marron, Lynn
Rose, Victoria
Beacon Press
California State University, Los Angeles
Doubleday and Company, inc.
Four Walls Eight Windows (Firm)
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Los Angeles Public Library
Pasadena City College (Pasadena, Calif.)
Science Fiction Writers of America
Seven Stories Press
Women's Press
World Science Fiction Convention (30th: 1972: Los Angeles, Calif.)
World Science Fiction Convention (38th : 1980 : Boston, Mass.)
World Science Fiction Convention (42nd : 1984 : Los Angeles, Calif.)
World Science Fiction Convention (44th : 1986 : Smyrna, Georgia)
World Science Fiction Convention (54th : 1996 : Los Angeles, Calif.)

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