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Octavia Butler: Why Google honours her on June 22

Octavia Butler was a groundbreaking African-American science fiction writer.

Octavia Butler

Described as a ground-breaking African-American science fiction writer, Octavia Butler would have been 71 on June 22.

In her honour, Google has changed its doodle in the United States to an illustration of her and her books.

This is her story:

Limitless possibilities 

  • Octavia Estelle Butler was born on June 22, 1947, in Pasadena, California.
  • Her father, who earned living shining shoes, died when she was very young. Butler was raised by her mother, who worked as a maid to support her family.
  • Butler has been described as extremely shy, tall girl who suffered from mild dyslexia. All this is believed to have contributed to Butler's social anxiety, which led to her spending a significant amount of time in the local library.
  • During that time, she came across the world of science fiction, and when her mother bought her a typewriter at the age of 10, she discovered her passion for writing.
  • Butler began writing stories at a young age and soon turned to science fiction. In a genre populated by only white male protagonists, Butler created characters that she and millions of others could identify with. 
  • "When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn't in any of this stuff I read," Butler told The New York Times in 2000. 
  • "The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn't manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I'm me and I'm here and I'm writing."

I wrote myself in, since I'm me and I'm here and I'm writing

Octavia Bluster 

Patternmaster 

  • To make ends meet, Butler worked as a dishwasher, telemarketer, and potato chip inspector - while maintaining a strict writing schedule. She was known to work for several hours every morning. 
  • She studied at California State University, Los Angeles, and took extension classes at UCLA.
  • In 1976, at the age of 29, Butler published her first novel, Patternmaster, which would ultimately become part of an ongoing storyline about a group of people with telepathic powers called Patternists.
  • According to Google, Butler wrote for three main audiences - black readers, feminists and science fiction fans.
  • "We are a naturally hierarchical species," she said. "When I say these things in my novels, sure I make up the aliens and all of that, but I don't make up the essential human character," the author told the New York Times. 

Racism and segregation 

  • Butler - like many black women of her time - faced institutional racism and segregation, experiences that influenced her writing, shining a light on a number of critical social issues.
  • In 1979, she published Kindred, the story of a young African-American woman who is pulled back in time to save a white slave owner - her own ancestor. 
  • She must save her slave-owning ancestor to ensure that he grows up to rape her slave ancestor, making him her great-great-great grandfather; if he dies, she cannot exist.
  • "I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure," she said.
  • In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, a prize which invests in those with "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits".
  • Four years later, she left California and moved to Seattle, Washington.
  • She was a known perfectionist with her work and spent many years dealing with writer's block.
  • Her efforts were hampered by her ill health and the medications she took. 
  • Butler wrote her last novel in 2005. Fledgling was a take on the concept of vampires and family structures.
  • On February 24, 2006, she died at her Seattle home. She was 58. 

I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure

Octavia Butler


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