16 Things You Didn’t Know About Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler was a trailblazer in the world of science fiction and writing. As a bestselling and award-winning author, Butler has been an inspiration for other women writers and writers of color. Her novels and short stories are known for raising awareness of the complexities and injustices of the human experience, and for offering hope that it can be bettered. Like her legions of dedicated fans, we think she rocks.

1. Octavia Butler was the *first* science fiction writer to receive a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

Some of the $295,000 she received was used to buy a house for her mother and herself.

2. Designer Rachel Stewart has a line of jewelry inspired by Octavia Butler.

With necklaces called “Kindred” and “Wild Seed,” and earrings called “Lilith’s Brood,” the characters and works of Octavia Butler inspired this unique collection from Rachel Stewart.

3. There is an Octavia E. Butler Society.

Spelman College, home to the Octavia E. Butler Society, also hosted The Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism which focused on Afrofuturism, and has offered a lit course called “Butler’s Daughters: Imagining Leadership in Black Speculative Fiction.” Academia loves Octavia.

4. Octavia Butler had a form of dyslexia that was not recognized at the time.

Some of her teachers thought she was “unwilling to do the work.” However, one teacher recognized her talent and typed out her first short story submission. Today, her novel Kindred is read in high school and college classes.

5. She received her first rejection letter when she was 13.

Publishers also repeatedly rejected her first book, Kindred, until Doubleday paid her a $5,000 advance. And it became a bestseller.

6. She moved to Seattle with 300 boxes of books.

She worked on her writing there, participated in readings and writers’ conferences, and was also on the advisory board of Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.

7. As a young girl, she was known as “Junie.”

Perhaps short for “Junior,” her mother was also named Octavia. Although Octavia Sr. could not afford to buy her daughter many books, she brought young Octavia to the library when she was six for her first library card.

8. Octavia Butler supported herself with a myriad of jobs, including one as a potato chip inspector.

She would wake up every day at 2 a.m. to write before work.

9. Butler would pawn her possessions to make ends meet.

It’s been said that if she were low on food, she would pawn her extra typewriter. Later, she learned to pay herself a salary from her publishing advances.

10. Octavia Butler climbed Huayna Picchu (the taller of the two peaks of Machu Picchu).

Perhaps she chose Huayna Picchu due to her own impressive height: She was 6 feet tall by the time she was 15 years old.

11. The Carl Brandon Society has a scholarship in her honor.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund allows the recipient to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops. Butler attended Clarion West and was the only African American writer in her workshop.

12. Octavia Butler has influenced many writers and artists such as Junot Diaz, Valjeanne Jeffers, Nnedi Okorafor, and Janelle Monáe.

They cite her as a major influence in their activism and art, as she was the first African American woman to dominate the science fiction genre. Her writing highlighted social inequality, especially when it came to race and gender.

13. She was determined to be a writer.

She began making up stories when she was four, and writing when she was 10 years old.

14. She decided to write science fiction because she hated Devil Girl from Mars.

Astounded that someone was paid to write the screenplay for this low-budget sci-fi movie, she believed that she could write a better story.

15. The term “Afrofuturism” would not be coined until 46 years after her birth.

Afrofuturism, a term often associated with the works of Octavia Butler, was coined by Mark Dery in his 1993, and described in his essay “Black to the Future” as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture — and more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future.”

16. The manuscript of Unexpected Stories was discovered by Octavia’s agent, Merrilee Heifetz.

Originally written in the early 1970s, and discovered among the author’s papers at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, Unexpected Stories includes the novella “A Necessary Being” and the story “Childminder,” each a posthumous gift from an amazing author.

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