I was first introduced to Octavia Butler in grad school when my African-American Lit. professor assigned Kindred, a novel about a contemporary (at the time) African-American woman who uncontrollably travels back in time to key moments in the life of her white, slave-owning ancestor in 19th-century Maryland. The novel has since been made into a graphic novel and features my favorite opening line of any book:
Kindred is fantastic. The protagonist grapples with her family history, her complicity in repeatedly saving the life of Rufus (her ancestress Alice’s abuser), her relationship with her white husband (who also travels back with her at one point), and the infuriating helplessness of being a modern African-American woman forced to fit into a time and place that preyed upon both of those identities (and, of course, if it’s true that, as Ursula K. Le Guin once said, “science fiction is not predictive; it’s descriptive,” then Dana’s experiences in antebellum America aren’t meant to be completely removed from the 1970s from which she hails).
After Kindred, I read Parable of the Sower, the first in a series about Lauren Oya Olamina and her legacy. Lauren suffers from a syndrome called hyper-empathy, which causes her to literally feel the pleasure and pain of others; living in a freshly post-post-apocalyptic America, naturally, pain is more common. Parable of the Sower tracks Lauren and her fellow travelers as she grows from a teenager to a woman and develops her philosophy Earthseed, ultimately becoming the leader of a new religion. I taught Parable of the Sower in a class on madness; I have a feeling if I re-read it now, Lauren’s America and the pain she feels won’t seem so far-fetched.
Butler’s last novel before her death caused by a stroke/fall at the too-young age of 58 in 2006 is fledgling, about a young, amnesiac vampire negotiating her identity following an attack on her family. (Butler is generally classified as a science fiction author, but fledgling and other stories like the excellent “Bloodchild” absolutely belong in the horror genre as well.)
As I write this, it occurs to me that I really need to read more Butler. Her importance to science fiction and American fiction in general is too often overlooked, and her importance as an African-American woman in science fiction can’t be overstated. I, er, forgot about this Day Thread until about 20 minutes ago, so I don’t have time for the deep dive I would have liked, but if you’re interested, here are some articles on her I would have read to further inform this header given more time:
Anyway, go read some Octavia Butler, y’all, and have a wonderful day.