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Octavia Butler

Writer Octavia Butler had to overcome many unfair perceptions about where blacks and women fit into the genre of science fiction and fantasy. The belief that blacks and women on the whole don’t read sci-fi or that non-blacks wouldn’t be interested in reading books with black protagonists hampered her earlier career, even to the point where her publishers featured white characters on her cover in order to "fool" the buyers. In later years, the books were re-issued featuring African-American characters. See pics of the original and re-issued covers of her novel, Dawn, for comparison:

These earlier doubts proved to be unfounded. Butler’s lyrical and imaginative depictions of dystopian societies where the breakdown of hierarchy pushes aside mere issues of race and sex and raises the question of just what and who is human has garnered an ever-growing fan base of various races and gender. Her works, both novels and short fiction, are lauded must-reads and she has paved the way for other writers, both women and minorities. In 1995, Butler was even awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for Genius. She has also received the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the Nebula Award as well as the Science Fiction Chronicle Award.

Born in Pasadena in 1947, Butler grew up an only child. Her father died when she was young and her mother had to work as a maid to provide for them. Butler’s childhood solitude fostered an imagination that was further inspired by her love of reading. At twelve, she penned her first sci-fi book, although she laments the story as "horrible." (This she related at a reading for her second Parable book, which I attended.) Still, Butler thankfully pursued her writing and has garnered quite a bibligraphy; her books include the nine books of the Patternist and Xenogenesis series and the following: Parable of the Talents (Seven Stories Press, 1998), Parable of the Sower (Warner Books, 1994), Bloodchild and Other Stories (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995), Lilith's Brood (1989) and Kindred (1980). In 2005, Kindred was re-issued in recognition of its 25th anniversary.

UPDATE: It's with great sadness that I learned that Ms. Butler passed away on Saturday, February 25, from a brain hemorrhage. The literary world has lost a great voice.

Read Butler's short stories Amnesty and Book of Martha at scifi.com.

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