My Very Own Essay about Octavia Butler


As part of my Women and Their Literature class in 1997, I had to write about an amazing woman. This is the amazing woman I chose to write about.
Octavia Butler: Positive Obsession
When I was 12, as part of my schoolwork, I had to read Kindred, Octavia Butler's fourth novel.  I didn't really want to, it didn't look like a book I would like.  My favorite books were comfortable and predictable with heroines I could identify with and overcame a more conventional type obstacle,  Butler's works tantalized me with ideas and scenarios I had never considered.  She has a style different from anyone else I have read.  Perhaps that is because she is so different a person than any other writer today.  At this point,  she is the only published Black American woman science fiction writer.  As Butler puts it "I am the only black woman science fiction writer today because I'm the only black woman writing science fiction.  i don't mean to be facetious, but it's true".
 

Octavia Estelle Butler was born June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California.  She was the only child of Octavia Margaret (Guy) Butler and Laurice Butler.  Shortly after Butler was born, her father died leaving Butler's mother and grandmother to raise her.  "My mother read me bedtime stories until I was six years old.  It was a sneak attack on her part.  As soon as I really got to like the stories, she said, 'Here's the book.  Now you read.' She didn't know what she was setting us both up for."  Butler started writing at the young age of 10.  She says of her writing so early, "I didn't realize then that writing was supposed to be work, it was too much fun." In an interview with Frances M. Beal in the Black Scholar, Butler tells about her first science fiction story.  "I was writing my own little stories and when I was 12, I was watching a bad science fiction movie [Devil Girl from Mars] and decided that I could write a better story than that.  And I turned off the TV and proceeded to try, and I've been writing science fiction ever since."  That first science fiction story was the basis for her first published novel, Patternmaster.
 

All through Junior High and High School, even college, Butler was a very shy person.  She would not get up in front of class to do anything, her teachers thought this was because she didn't do the work and was unprepared.  One time, she even went as far as to record her presentation on a tape and turn that in instead.  During her years in school, there were three teachers who made a critical difference in Butler's development.  The first was Butler's home economics teacher in seventh grade, Miss Peters.  Peters took the time to read Butler's stories and offer encouragement.  The second teacher was Mr. Pfaff, an eighth grade science teacher who typed her first story, "typed it the way it was supposed to be, with no holes erased into the paper and no strike-overs...He even corrected my terrible spelling and punctuation.  To this day I'm amazed and grateful." The third teacher was Butler's first Black teacher.  Miss Buggs taught ninth grade English, social studies, and drama.  Butler remembers her as the only teacher who truly understood how much presenting material orally terrified the young student.
 

She graduated from high school in 1965.  She then started night classes at Pasadena City College, by second semester she had signed up for a full course load.  She finished the two-year degree program in 1968.  Then she started attending California State College, but was dissatisfied with the creative writing courses there so she withdrew from college.  While working a number of odd jobs to support herself, she took evening writing courses at UCLA and began attending writing workshops at the Screen Writers Guild of America, West and Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop.  About her writing, she says "I write about people who do extraordinary things.  It just turned out that it was called science fiction."  Two of her short stories were bought while she was attending Clarion, however she didn't sell anything else for another five years.  With the resolve shown by some of her characters, she continued to write in spite of rejection by publishers, financial hardship, and discouragement from family and friends who advised her to get a "real" job.
 

Her first novel was published in 1977, after that first novel, she has had less and less trouble getting her work published.  She now has 10 novels and a book of short stories. In her book of short stories, she has two essays titled "Positive Obsession" and "Furor Scribendi".  "Furor Scribendi" is an essay for aspiring writers.  She says in her essay "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable.  Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not...Forget talent.  If you have it, fine.  Use it.  If you don't have it, it doesn't matter.  As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent... Finally, don't worry about imagination. You have all the imagination you need...Persist." I think that Octavia Butler is one of the best science fiction writers.  She has a style all to her self.  She combines racism and bigotry with true science fiction.  She has been writing now for about 40 years.  She has won many awards including the Hugo Award twice, the Nebula Award which are the two highest awards for a science fiction author, the Locus Award and in 1995 she was the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant.  She describes herself as "a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist always, a Black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive."  Octavia Butler has the skill and frankness to strip away the myths and write about reality and the real problems with the human race and with society as it is now.  This bluntness is one of the reasons I find her work so intriguing.  I find compelling about her writing the ideas in her books are ideas I have not read before, and that is a difficult thing to do, to deviate from the norms.  I find her courage, persistence and positive obsession very inspiring, and I hope that through reading her works, I become more like her and I am able to find my positive obsession for truly she is an amazing person.



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