As a speculative fiction author, Octavia Butler broke new grounds in the genre, going beyond the patriarchal Eurocentric and white supremacist framework of a lot of early speculative fiction. In her novels, she explored underrepresented topics like the continuing impact of American slavery and racism on black bodies and minds and larger society, and the seeds of late capitalism leading to dystopia. She also gave us stories from the perspective of black people, specifically black women (herself being a black woman writer), something that was rare in these genres.
Last Sunday, I attended Brooklyn Book Festival and the panel, “The Legacy of Octavia Butler,” featuring author Ytasha Womack (Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy), author Daniel Jose Older (Shadowshaper), artist John Jennings (Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation) and author Ben Winters (Underground Airlines). Each panelist talked about the mega influence of Butler on their work and what was possible to write about and focus on in speculative fiction. Like me, all the panelists wished they found out about her work earlier because her work validated them and the truths of our histories and realities in ways other novels in the same genre did not. As Jennings expressed, Butler’s skill was destabilizing the stereotypes and categories that we place on ourselves and others; she was centered on exploring the liminal spaces and identities. Butler herself didn’t fit the stereotypes of a typical black woman — she was reclusive and reserved, and she was willing to go into and engage with spaces that others did not dare.