Writers Inspired by Octavia Butler

This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler’s  birthday. See all the posts here.


Octavia Butler inspired many writers — especially writers of color — by showing them that they could be writers, that there was a place for their fiction. That their dreams were worthy of following. These writers’ stories about Octavia Butler’s influence shows how important the Own Voices movement is in publishing. We need books written by black women, with black women on the cover, prominently displayed on bookshelves. We needed them yesterday, but today will have to do. Thankfully, for these authors, they found such a book. And that book was written more often than not written by Octavia Butler.

Her fiction fostered many creative geniuses, and many more to come. Far more than listed here.

Author photo of Nnedi OkoraforNnedi Okorafor, in an interview on Specter

“I first encountered Octavia Butler in 2000 while I was at the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. I was in the bookstore during one our breaks and I was perusing the science fiction and fantasy section. I’d never heard of Octavia Butler. At the time, however, I was writing a story about an angry, trouble-making promiscuous woman in pre-colonial Nigeria who had the ability to fly. I saw a novel with a mysterious-looking black woman on the cover. That was why I picked it up –  because of the African woman on the cover of a book in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section. I read the first page and my eyes nearly popped out. The main character had an Igbo name and she was in Nigeria and she could shape shift! I bought that book and read the hell out of it and my mind was blown. Wild Seed showed me that the publication of the type of stories I was writing was possible. It showed me that I wasn’t alone and that what I was writing was ok. Octavia gave me strength.”

K. Tempest Bradford, Adrienne Maree Brown, Ytasha L. Womack, and Jason T. Harris discuss Octavia Butler’s influence on The Marc Steiner Show podcast (50 minutes)

Photograph of author N.K. JemisinN.K. Jemisin, on her blog in 2008, celebrating Octavia Butler’s birthday

“Because if she hadn’t become a writer, I’m not sure I would be writing today. It would’ve been all too easy to give in to the little voices in the back of my mind, or the not-so-little voices from doubters among my loved ones, who insisted that my dream was unrealistic at best, laughable at worst. She was my clarion call — the lonely beacon in the wilderness letting me know that I was on the right track, that someone had been along the path before me, and that it was possible to reach the end.”

Tananarive Due, mourning Octavia Butler on her blog

“I was introduced to the works of Octavia E. Butler when a friend of mine, a writer and columnist named Robert Vamosi, insisted I must read her. I read Kindred, her time-travel story of a contemporary black woman who is periodically flung back into the Antebellum slavery period, and I was floored. I often say that between Alex Haley’s Roots, Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Butler’s Kindred, we can come no closer to experiencing slavery, and its legacy, in America.”

Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl, in an Imaginary Worlds podcast (19 minutes)

“The other thing though is that she doesn’t flinch. Her specialty was to think about the things that people would rather not think about. One of the exercises that she gave to a class which I sat in on that I remember her asking everyone in the class to write about what they feared, because she thought that the emotion of being repelled and in fear would come out strongly in our work, and I think she did that a lot herself.”

Nalo HopkinsonNalo Hopkinson, in an interview with Locus Magazine

“I’m sitting on a panel with Octavia Butler and remembering being 22 and discovering that there were black science fiction writers, and finding all her work and reading it in about a month. I just devoured it. As a 22-year-old, I hadn’t even thought I could become a writer, and now I’m sitting on a panel with this woman whose work meant so much to me, talking about our writing!”

Junot Diaz, in an interview with Salon

“And yet to a writer, a reader, a person like me, descended from the same nightmare processes that fueled her fiction, Butler was a model of artistic courage. Perhaps she was isolated, perhaps, but her work certainly kept me company, kept me from feeling alone.”

Interested in reading more writers discussing Octavia Butler? Then you should check out Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal and Strange Matings edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl.

 

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