Today is National Science Fiction Day, and ESSENCE is paying tribute to one of the greatest sci-fi novelists of all time, Octavia Estelle Butler.
Named after her mother Octavia Margaret Guy and her grandmother Estella, Butler grew up extremely shy and turned to books and reading for comfort.
Butler would go on to become a prolific writer and the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur genius grant on top of being the first Black published science fiction writer and the first Black woman to be awarded the Hugo and Nebula Awards from the World Science Fiction Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America respectively.
Many consider Butler, who passed away in 2006, to be the mother of Afrofuturism, which NPR defines as, “an open-ended genre combining science fiction, fantasy and history to imagine a liberated future through a Black lens.”
In celebrating Butler’s extraordinary legacy, ESSENCE looked to Butler’s own words to commemorate National Science Fiction Day. Here are some of our favorite Butler quotes.
Butler realized she could be a science fiction writer after watching the “awful” 1954 B-movie “Devil Girl From Mars”
As Butler recalled to an audience at MIT, “I saw it when I was about l2 years old, and it changed my life. It was one of those old 1950s movies in which the beautiful Martian woman arrives on earth to announce that all the Martian men have died off and there are a bunch of man-hungry women up there. And the earth-men don’t want to go. As I was watching this film, I had a series of revelations. The first was that ‘Geez, I can write a better story than that.’ And then I thought, “Gee, anybody can write a better story than that.’ And my third thought was the clincher: ‘Somebody got paid for writing that awful story.’ So I was off and writing, and a year later I was busy submitting terrible pieces of fiction to innocent magazines.”
Butler had big dreams as a teenager
Butler’s best-selling novel Kindred, which was recently adapted to the screen, was inspired by her mother’s work as a maid
Representation matters and was an inspiration for Butler
“When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read…The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”
In the beginning, no one knew who Butler was or the fact that she was Black
Butler published her first few novels without even meeting her editor Sharon Jarvis, before finally meeting in person at a conference, “I went up to her at a science-fiction convention and introduced myself and she opened her mouth, stepped back, and stared… we both played at not knowing why she was behaving that way,” she recalled.