February 24th, 2019 marked the 13th anniversary of the sudden death of Octavia E. Butler. In the years since her passing at age 58, Butler's work has continued to inspire. A TV adaptation of her book Dawn is on the way from director Ava DuVernay, an opera based on her novel Parable of the Sower premiered in 2017, and it was recently announced that her Earthseed series will be re-released in 2019.
Since Butler's death, her work has also proven alarmingly prescient. Butler's novels explore themes like the extinction of humanity, the toxicity of hierarchical societies, and the absolute necessity and inevitability of change — even if that change requires a total reimagining of what it means to be human. With climate change becoming an increasingly urgent threat, and a resurgence of fascism across the globe, Butler's novels, disconcertingly, have only grown in relevance since her death.
In honor of Butler's prescient and powerful work, we reached out to authors, scholars, and bloggers who have been touched by her writing. We asked them what, in 2019, they believe to be the most valuable aspect of Butler's legacy, and what they hope readers continue to take away from her work. Read their responses below, then download one of Butler's incredible novels today!
Grand Master Samuel R. Delany
Named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Samuel R. Delany is the multiple Nebula Award-winning author of Babel-17, Dhalgren, and other seminal sci-fi and fantasy works. Read his thoughts on Butler below.
I have to speak as someone who was briefly her teacher at Clarion and in later years her colleague and her friend, as well as a professor who, in still later years, taught her work both to graduates and undergraduates. For me Butler's most important works are her short stories, contained in the revised and expanded BLOODCHILD, especially "Amnesty," "Bloodchild," and "Speech Sounds." That's starting with the best. ("Bloodchild" won both the both a Hugo and a Nebula; "Speech Sounds" won a Hugo.) Butler was at her most inventive when she was dealing with the intersection of aliens and humans. I am an eccentric reader, and her novels never spoke to me as powerfully as her tales.
adrienne maree brown, co-editor of Octavia's Brood
brown is the co-editor of Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, an anthology of speculative fiction written by activists. For The Portalist, she previously wrote about the terrifying parallels between Butler's Earthseed series and Trump's election, saying "Thank the goddesses of clear-eyed prophecies for Octavia Butler, the black science fiction writer who foresaw this moment and created guidance for us." brown says of Butler's continued relevance in 2019,
Octavia Butler's legacy is that she paid immense attention to the patterns of life on this planet, and our deepest longings, and our flaw of hierarchy paired with intelligence - and she offered us a core piece of wisdom that showed up differently in each text but was nonetheless consistent: get in right relationship with change.
Blogger Miriam Rune on Luminescent Threads
In 2017, Twelfth Planet Press released Luminescent Threads, an anthology of letters and essays dedicated to Butler. Blogger Miriam Rune, who worked with Twelfth Planet Press on the release, spoke to The Portalist about how the collection explores Butler's prescience:
I have been in a very privileged position, working with Twelfth Planet Press to let the world know about their anthology of essays and letters to Octavia, titled Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler (Locus award winner; Hugo nominee). I had the opportunity to work closely with the editors and many of the contributors to the anthology; many are graduates of the Clarion workshops, some knew Octavia personally, most know her work extremely well and all have been hugely influenced by her work and her life. Through putting together an article for the Locus Roundtable, I had the chance to grill them at length about Butler’s relevance in our current times.
Luminescent Threads was put together in the months following the 2016 presidential election in the US, a period during which social prejudices, which appeared to have been dispelled in decades past, started bubbling up again. Many of our contributors looked to Octavia’s writing for guidance and inspiration; through speaking with them retrospectively, I got a good understanding of how Octavia managed to appear so prescient.
Many of the contributors to the anthology cite Octavia’s deep understanding of the cyclical nature of history and politics, and how social inequality and racial prejudice are ‘baked into the political system’, as Connie Samaras notes. I remember reading Bloodchild for the first time, and being horrified, but equally fascinated, by the world she had created. Like the world I knew, hers had gender and racial inequality at its root; these issues transcend time and space, it’s just that the tables have been turned. Butler’s works are startlingly pragmatic, holding what Christopher Caldwell aptly describes as ‘tough optimism’. It seems vital to Octavia’s enduring legacy that she wrote about social inequality as an inevitable side effect to the cycle of history and politics, and that she strove to help others understand it through her writing, so that we might better identify and overcome it.
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Featured photo: Alchetron