Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.
Butler was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Since her father Laurice, a shoeshiner, died when she was a baby, Butler was raised by her grandmother and her mother (Octavia M. Butler) who worked as a maid in order to support the family. Butler grew up in a struggling, racially mixed neighborhood. According to the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Butler was “an introspective, only child in a strict Baptist household” and “was drawn early to magazines such as Amazing, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Galaxy and soon began reading all the science fiction classics.”
Octavia Jr., nicknamed Junie, was paralytically shy and a daydreamer, and was later diagnosed as being dyslexic. She began writing at the age of 10 “to escape loneliness and boredom”; she was 12 when she began a lifelong interest in science fiction. “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,” she told the journal Black Scholar, “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.”
Her first published story, “Crossover,” appeared in Clarion’s 1971 anthology; another short story, “Childfinder,” was bought by Harlan Ellison for the never-published collection The Last Dangerous Visions. (Like other stories purchased for that volume, it has yet to appear anywhere.) “I thought I was on my way as a writer…” Butler wrote in her short fiction collection Bloodchild and Other Stories. “In fact, I had five more years of rejection slips and horrible little jobs ahead of me before I sold another word.”
Butler used the hyperbolic reach of speculative fiction to explore modern and ancient social issues. She often represented concepts like race, sexuality, gender, religion, social progress, and social class in metaphoric language. However, these issues were not relegated only to metaphor. For instance, class struggle is an overt topic in the Parable of the Sower series.