Wednesday, April 17, 2019
A to Z: Letters to Dead Writers: Octavia Butler
This month I'm writing one post for each letter of the alphabet, all on the theme of "Letters to Dead Writers." You can see my theme reveal post here and learn more about the blogging challenge here.
Today's writer is Octavia Butler
I'm sorry that I didn't find you before you died. Yours was not a name I heard until I was older.
Even though you had built a career by the time I was born, I didn't find you in the used book store where I bought all my science fiction and fantasy as a child and young woman. The shelves there featured lots of the "big names" of our shared genre, Isaac Asimov, JRR Tolkein, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne: white guys, every one of them. I read those, and thought I knew what was out there. I missed so much!
Because I'm a white girl myself, and I lived in a place where there were very few people who weren't, it was a long time before I even knew that my reading had been restricted, that I had missed whole other canons of work. It's hard to see outside a box when you're in it, especially when you're young.
Sometime in my thirties, I began to hear your name. I'd see a list of "must reads" and you'd be on it. I was curious, but it was still a few more years until I actually read your work. I met a woman through my writing life who was a big fan of your work. That was a recommendation that bore weight: she didn't waste her time on books that were not of consequence, and she admired your work.
So I picked up Wild Seed. Turns out that was kind of a strange place to start. It's neither your first, nor your most famous book. But I loved it. Sweeping and epic in scale, following immortals Anyanwu and Doro across time, and featuring fascinating powers, I was drawn in immediately. The best parts, for me, were the parts where Anyanwu used her ability to become different animals. I felt each creature with her through your words.
After that I picked up Lilith's Brood, intrigued by the title. Lilith, I figured was going to be the Biblical, mythological woman, a figure I knew little about. She was a whisper on the wind for me. And brood. Such an interesting word, with its implications of breeding programs and chickens and large numbers of children and at the same time a kind of pondering thought, lingering over melancholy and disturbing topics. Turns out that you couldn't have picked a better title for your exploration of the nature of humanity and the implications of gender through the story of a woman who helps humankind survive, in a manner of speaking, through integration with alien species. So much to think about in that trilogy!
You're still on my reading list. My daughter was assigned Parable of the Sower at college this year, and she had a lot to say about it, so I think that will be next. I look forward to learning what else you have to teach me.