Skip to content Skip to content

Octavia Butler - Science Fiction Author - Pasadena City College

The late Octavia Butler received an associate of arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena City College and then attended California State University, Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles.

While attending school Butler held down a lot of odd jobs. Octavia Estelle Butler is the first African-American woman to gain popularity and critical acclaim as a major science fiction writer. She was born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena to Laurice and Octavia M. (Guy) Butler. Her father, a shoeshine man, died when Butler was very young. Most of her memories are actually stories that she heard from her mother and grandmother. Her mother and she lived in a racially mixed neighborhood. The unifying factor was the struggle to make ends meet. Butler was very shy in school, and described herself as a daydreamer. These factors made it very difficult to succeed in school. She overcame dyslexia, and began writing when she was 10 years old to escape loneliness and boredom. At age 12 she became interested in science fiction.

Butler has won several awards for her writing. In 1984 she won a Hugo Award for her short story, "Speech Sounds." In 1985 she won the Hugo Award for her novella "Bloodchild." "Bloodchild" also won the 1984 Nebula Award. The Hugo and Nebula Awards are considered science fiction's highest awards. They are decided on by other science fiction writers and fans. In 1995, Butler won the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" which pays $295,000 over five years.

Butler's patternists series, published between 1976 and 1984, tells of a society that is run by a specially-bred group of telepaths. This is an elite group who are mentally linked to one another in a hierarchical pattern. These telepaths are trying to create a superhuman race. This series includes the books: "Patternmaster," "Mind of My Mind," "Survivor," "Wild Seed," and "Clay's Ark." "Patternmaster" deals with the struggle between brawn and brain. It also comments on class structure and the role of women."Wild Seed" incorporates a great deal of the Black experience, including slavery.

"Dawn," "Adulthood Rites," and "Imago" are the three novels that make up the Xenogenesis trilogy. These stories are about the near destruction of humankind through nuclear war and gene-swapping by extraterrestrials. The extraterrestials observe the humans as being hierarchical, which cause them to be prejudiced, and to have class divisions and conflict. These characteristics make it inevitable that mankind will eventually destroy itself without the aliens' help.

"I'm not writing for some noble purpose, I just like telling a good story. If what I write about helps others understand this world we live in, so much the better for all of us," Butler told fellow author Robert McTyre. "Every story I write adds to me a little, changes me a little, forces me to reexamine an attitude or belief, causes me to research and learn, helps me to understand people and grow. Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself."

Pasadena City College

Read about more notable alumni...