Octavia E. Butler was an American science fiction writer born on 22nd June 1947, an only child. The loss of her father when she was 7 meant that Butler was raised by her mother and maternal grandmother in what she would go on to recall as a strict Baptist environment.
From an early age Butler suffered from crippling shyness making her awkward, as a result she passed her time reading at the Pasadena Central Library, and writing realms and realms of pages in her ‘big pink notebook’. It will come as no surprise to her fans to learn that she quickly evolved from reading fairy tales to reading science fiction magazines.
At 10 years old Butler would beg her mother to buy her first typewriter, a Remington, on which she ‘pecked her stories two fingered’. At 12 years old she watched Devil Girl from Mars and convinced she could write a better story she drafted what would later become the Patternist novels (US – UK). At 13 she suffered a loss of faith in herself upon hearing the words “Honey… Negroes can’t be writers.”
Thankfully Butler persevered and became one of the best known science fiction writers of the 20th century, no mean feat from a woman in a man’s genre, and from a woman of colour at that.
Here are some quotes from Octavia E. Butler on writing and science fiction.
I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.
Writing is one of the few professions in which you can psychoanalyse yourself, get rid of hostilities and frustrations in public, and get paid for it.
The thing about science fiction is that it’s totally wide open. But it’s wide open in a conditional way.
Science fiction let me do both. It let me look into science and stick my nose in everywhere.
I began reading science fiction before I was 12 and started writing science fiction around the same time.
Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself.
You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is perseverance.
Every story I write adds to me a little, changes me a little, forces me to reexamine an attitude or belief, causes me to research and learn, helps me to understand people and grow.