June 24, 2020

Octavia Butler

Photo by Cheung Ching Ming

Octavia Butler was a groundbreaking Hugo and Nebula Award-winning science fiction author whose imagined worlds continue to trouble, inspire, and delight. Her work deals with time travel, pandemics, wealth inequality, and alien planets, while never failing to deliver visionary explorations of language, race, gender, tribalism, societal norms, and alternative futures, in works that readers continue to turn to again and again. As we celebrate Octavia Butler’s birthday this week, we asked Lynell George, a Grammy-award winning writer based in Los Angeles, to share three reading recommendations from Butler’s oeuvre, along with an excerpt from her own forthcoming book on Butler’s life in and around Los Angeles, A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler (Angel City Press, October 2020).

Excerpted from the chapter “Futurescapes & Keepsakes:”

“I’m often asked, especially of late, to entertain some version of this question: ‘As an African American woman writer, was Butler an influence on your own work?’ No. Not directly. I am not a writer because of her. I was already on a path. I was pulled to poetry and essays, long-form nonfiction rooted in our shared home town. However, she was absolutely on my radar. Traceable. Her life here in Southern California and her unique profile as a writer grappling with global issues, catastrophes, and human frailty through the lenses of science and speculative fiction was part of a far-ranging conversation—about sense of place, the environment and the necessity of  pushing away borders and labels. Embodying what could be, she was a sturdy and singular model. Someone to look to for long-haul advice. For survival.

“‘Creativity demands that you spend long periods of time with your thoughts—all of your thoughts,’ she warned in a dashed off note-to-self—and by extension anyone who wanted to take this path. She struggled with her plots and premises as much as she struggled with perfectionism. She kept telling herself she belonged, until she carved a place out for herself and then made room for others to follow and to gather. By example she encouraged: Speak on what you’ve learned. Your take is valid. Essential. You absolutely deserve to be here. Full stop.”

Lynell George recommends: