25 Oct 2023

Meet Octavia E. Butler

Early Life

Octavia Butler was born in California in 1947. She had two loving parents but did not come from a wealthy background and in fact, her father died when she was young. This meant that Octavia was raised by her mother – who worked as a housemaid – and her grandmother. In fact, Octavia was named after her mother (Octavia) and her grandmother (Estella) and they were the two most important people in her life.

Growing up in America in the 1940s and 50s was incredibly hard for Octavia. Racial segregation was prominent in her area, and she frequently saw her mother treated poorly by those she worked for.

When Octavia started school, she discovered that she was dyslexic. A lot of teachers thought she was unwilling to do work, instead of recognising her neurodivergence. This didn’t deter her from reading, though, with the library being her second home!

Whilst a lot of people can’t remember the moment they realised their dream career, this wasn’t the case for Octavia. Whilst watching the movie Devil Girl From Mars she was shocked to realise that not only did someone get paid to write it, but she could write like that too! In fact, her writing was so impressive and unusual that when her teachers read her stories, they would believe they were copied.

Patti Perret, photograph of Octavia E. Butler seated by her bookcase, 1986. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


Once she had graduated, she worked many jobs to earn money. Despite these jobs, she still found time to write, waking up at 2 a.m. to write her stories and attending night college. Finally, her work paid off. She took a writing workshop with a famous author and by the end, she had sold two of her stories, earning her first income as a writer.

An important aspect of how Octavia managed to get through her tough times was her strong belief that things would get better for her and manifestation. She would frequently tell herself “In every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” and “I write Bestselling Books…every one of my books reaches and remains for two or more months at the top of the bestseller lists….So Be It! See To It!”.

Whilst she continued to work odd jobs, her writing career was picking up. She continued to write her science fiction stories based on the injustices she was experiencing in the world, such as animal cruelty and racism. This led her to her first manuscript being published, and 12 more books followed!

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botantical Gardens. Estate of Octavia E. Butler.


All of Octavias’ work is highly praised, winning several awards such as the MacArthur Genius Award and the Nebula Award. Not only that, but her work (most notably her book Kindred) is now considered a classic. Her work was also crucial to the development of Afrofuturism – a genre of writing focusing on African history and culture and how it blends with science and technology.

By blending her passion for writing and science fiction with her experiences of injustice as a young black woman in America, Octavia has secured her place in writing history.

Did you enjoy this article? Click on a star to rate it!
Next in this issue...
Upcoming Events
Parent, guardian, teacher or volunteer?

The Stemettes Zine is a curated space tailored specifically to Stemettes but we have plenty of content and updates for you folks too. Sign up to receive the Stemettes newsletter and we’ll keep you updated with the latest from Stemettes HQ including events, activities, resources and fundraising activities.