Research: Octavia Butler

In speaking with a fellow graduate student, I decided to change my research subject. While Donald Goines’ life may be interesting, unfortunately for me to get the most out of this project, I need an author who has actual scholarly research. Goines has some, but not as much as others. So after careful deliberation, I’ve switched my topic of study to Octavia Butler. I’ve read one of her works and in generating bibliographic research on her, I’m also hoping to open my mind up to the genre of science fiction and fantasy.

ButlerMonday, February 27, 2006

Her father was a shoeshine man who died when she was a child, her mother was a maid who brought her along on jobs, yet Octavia Butler rose from these humble beginnings to become one of the country’s leading writers – a female African American pioneer in the white, male domain of science fiction.

Butler, 58, died after falling and striking her head Friday on a walkway outside her home in Lake Forest Park. The reclusive writer, who moved to Seattle in 1999 from her native Southern California, was a giant in stature (she was 6 feet tall by age 15) and in accomplishment…

Butler’s most popular work is “Kindred,” a time-travel novel in which a black woman from 1976 Southern California is transported back to the violent days of slavery before the Civil War. The 1979 novel became a popular staple of school and college courses and now has more than a quarter million copies in print, but its birth was agonizing, like so much in Butler’s solitary life.

“Kindred” was repeatedly rejected by publishers, many of whom could not understand how a science fiction novel could be set on a plantation in the antebellum South. Butler stuck to her social justice vision – “I think people really need to think what it’s like to have all of society arrayed against you” – and finally found a publisher who paid her a $5,000 advance for “Kindred.”

“I was living on my writing,” Butler said, “and you could live on $5,000 back then. You could live, but not well. I got along by buying food I didn’t really like but was nourishing: beans, potatoes. A 10-pound sack of potatoes lasts a long time.” (Read more…)

I think I was also drawn to Butler after an hour-long discussion with the science fiction curator on campus. He recommended a few books for me to read (by other authors) and explained to me why certain books were removed from circulation. Really interesting guy. I look forward to sharing my bibliographic research findings on Butler with him once the assignment is complete.

On another note, Caryl Phillips’ is featured in the October issue of Essence magazine for his latest work Foreigners. I’ll read my first book by Phillip’s, A Distant Shore, this fall. We’ll see how that goes before I add another one to the neverending list of books to read list. Essence notes his new book is one “you won’t put down.” Here’s that brief article:


Foreign Exchange: A new expose reveals England’s racist past
by Mika Ono Benedyk

Caution: There are no happy endings in Caryl Phillip’s latest story-and that’s purel intentional. In Foreigners (Knopf, $24.95), his ninth novel, the author of such literary hits as 1992’s Cambridge and 2005’s Dancing in the Dark uses fiction to illuminate the lives of three real-life Black men in Britain: Francis Barber, the companion to eighteenth-century literary giant Samuel Johnson; Randolph Turpin, unexpected winner of the 1951 world middleweight title against American Sugar Ray Robinson; and David Oluwale, a Nigerian immigrant whose notorious death in 1969 at the hands of two British police officers shocked that island nation. “All three had to endure being foreign to England and being famous or infamous,” says Phillips, 49, who was raised in the English city of Leeds and now lives in St. Kitts and New York City when he’s not teaching at Yale University. Phillips knows that his book will spark controversy, especially since he traces Britain’s intolerance of Blacks for more than a century, letting us know that the tragic lives of the three men profiled aren’t isolated incidents. “I want readers to understand what happened in these characters’ lives and why they made the decisions they made.”

Anyway, I have to do a presentation on Mary Prince on Tuesday so I have to get to work on that. Which means I have to re-read her chapter and do a little outside research. Should be interesting.

Just finished up The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, interesting book, but the framing story seemed to get in the way at times. I also didn’t care for the ending and felt that Hamid could have built up to the conclusion a little more by adding a few more pages–a few as in 50. He comments on this in a Q&A session at Powell’s Books. Overall, interesting, well-written, and recommendable. But don’t take my half-assed review for it. Check out the author Q&A, book excerpt and other reviews on Powell’s Books. Better yet, listen to Hamid discuss his novel on NPR. I got stuff to do.

Happy reading ya’ll!

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One thought on “Research: Octavia Butler

  1. Octavia Butler is one of my favorite authors. I don’t know if you’ve read ‘Parable of the Sower’ and ‘Parable of the Talents’ yet, but they are both great books. I love your site, btw! It’s great to know that there are other bookworms out there! =)

    Like

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