“So be it! See to it!”: A Celebration of Octavia Butler

Handwritten notes from one of Octavia Butler’s notebooks. Photo from the Huntington Library’s blog.

Feb. 24, 2016, marks the 10thanniversary of the death of Octavia Butler (1947 – 2006), known as the “grand dame of science fiction.” Her books and short stories critiqued contemporary power structures while imagining a radical new future, addressing issues of class, race, gender and sexuality along the way. Her powerful visions of the world as it could be helped kickstart a new literary genre: Afrofuturism, an examination of the intersection between race and technology that envisions the future while interrogating the past.

A lifelong writer, Octavia Butler’s body of work includes twelve novels and two short story collections. Her novels have won numerous honors and awards within the science fiction community and beyond. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant.”

The Stone Center Library is proud to join the celebration the literary impact of Octavia Butler’s life. Many of Octavia Butler’s writings are available at UNC Libraries, so rather than list her novels, we would like to highlight the literary conversation that is part of her legacy.

In this post, we’ve gathered books that feature discussion of Octavia Butler’s work, analyzing its themes and looking at it in the context of African American, science fiction, and Afrofuturist literature.

All of these books are available at the Stone Center Library. Each title links to the book’s UNC Library catalog entry, where you can check their availability and learn more about them. Each entry is also accompanied by quote from the book’s official description.

Conversations with Octavia Butler, edited by Consuela Francis

“Octavia Butler (1947-2006) spent the majority of her prolific career as the only major black female author of science fiction. […] …Conversations with Octavia Butler reveals a writer very much aware of herself as the “rare bird” of science fiction even as she shows frustration with the constant question, “How does it feel to be the only one?” Whether discussing humanity’s biological imperatives or the difference between science fiction and fantasy or the plight of the working poor in America, Butler emerges in these interviews as funny, intelligent, complicated, and intensely original.”

The Freedom to Remember: Narrative, Slavery, and Gender in Contemporary Black Women’s Fiction by Angelyn Mitchell

The Freedom to Remember examines contemporary literary revisions of slavery in the United States by black women writers. […] Angelyn Mitchell changes the conceptualization of these narratives, focusing on the theme of freedom, not slavery, defining these works as “liberatory narratives.” These works create a space to problematize the slavery/freedom dichotomy from which contemporary black women writers have the “safe” vantage point to reveal aspects of enslavement that their ancestors could not examine. […] Mitchell shows how the liberatory narrative functions to emancipate its readers from the legacies of slavery in American society: by facilitating a deeper discussion of the issues and by making them new through illumination and interrogation.”

Visions of the Third Millennium: Black Science Fiction Novelists Write the Future by Sandra M. Grayson

“Focusing on established and relatively new writers such as Octavia E. Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Steven Barnes, and Nalo Hopkinson, Grayson’s groundbreaking study is concerned with how black science fiction writers interweave the memories of enslaved Africans in their works, revealing journeys in time through Africa that are both metaphorical and literal in their span of physical space, traditional beliefs, and African history. […] Grayson argues that these black science fiction writers call for positive activism and encourage the reader to reconsider the myth of individualism that is especially pervasive in North American society and to conceptualize a society that recognizes and appreciates all nations and people as connected to a larger global community.”

The Black Imagination: Science Fiction, Futurism and the Speculative, edited by Sandra Jackson, Julie E. Moody-Freeman

“The anthology extends the discursive boundaries of science fiction by examining iconic writers like Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, and Nalo Hopkinson through the lens of ecofeminist veganism, post-9/11 racial geopolitics, and the effect of the computer database on human voice and agency. Contributors expand what the field characterizes as speculative fiction by examining for the first time the vampire tropes present in Audre Lorde’s poetry, and by tracing her influence on the horror fiction of Jewelle Gomez. The collection moves beyond exploration of literary fiction to study the Afro-futurist representations of Blacks in comic books, in the Star Trek franchise, in African films, and in blockbuster films like Independence Day, I Robot , and I Am Legend.”

The Octavia E. Butler Collection

We hope that these books introduce you to some of the exciting scholarship that has sprung out of Octavia Butler’s celebrated work. However, if you’re interested in learning more about Octavia Butler herself, we have one final recommendation for you.

In her will, Octavia Butler bequeathed her papers—including early drafts and personal correspondence—to The Huntington Library. The Octavia E. Butler Collection has become one of the Huntington’s most frequently used archives. A small selection of items from the collection can be viewed online.


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