Octavia Butler: Telling My Stories

May 29, 2017

“How much of this nonsense does he believe, I wonder, and how much does he say just because he knows the value of dividing in order to conquer and rule?”

“Sound familiar?” asks Heather Jones in her Wear Your Voice magazine piece on November 9, 2016. In regard to the personality and character that is Donald Trump, Jones writes that author Octavia Butler in her book Parable of the Talents predicted that “this day would come” for America.

(Main protagonist) Andrew Jarrett had no real platform, but he was charismatic and spoke to a frustrated American majority in an uncertain time with the slogan “Make America Great Again.”
—”Octavia Butler Predicted a Trump Presidency 20 Years Ago”¹ by Heather Jones,



Image source: The Huntington.


Butler was a Pasadena native born in 1947. Her mother was a maid and her father shined shoes. She was an only child and apparently shy (and also lost her father at a young age). The exhibit “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories” has examples of her earliest stories thanks to Butler bequeathing her work to the Huntington Library. The institution received 354 boxes of materials, Karen Wada of the LA Times writes, “bequest (exhibit curator Natalie) Russell describes as ‘huge and unedited because Octavia kept everything and passed away unexpectedly after a fall.’ “²

“When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”
—Octavia Butler, interview, NY Times, 2000

Besides shyness, Butler is said to experienced self-doubt throughout her career and the Huntington exhibit explores “how such struggles influenced her life and art.” The exhibit includes examples of her journal entries, photographs, and first editions of her work, particularly Kindred, Butler’s best-known book.



Even given the extremes of imagination, Butler sought to meticulously research the science in her fiction, traveling to the Amazon to get a firsthand look at biological diversity there in an effort to better incorporate biology, genetics, and medicine in her work. Climate change concerned her, as did politics, the pharmaceutical industry, and a variety of social issues, and she wove them all into her writing. “Her stories resonate in very powerful ways today,” said Russell. “Perhaps even more so than when they were first published.”


Image source: The Huntington.


Octavia Butler: Telling My Stories
Through August 7, 2017
Huntington, Library West Hall, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino 91108
Hours: Wednesday-Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: $10-$25
For more info, visit
Or call 1.626.405.2100





Wednesday, June 7th, 4:30-5:30 p.m.: Curator Tour – Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories
Join curator Natalie Russell for a private tour of the exhibition. Cost: members, $15; nonmembers $20.

Friday, June 23rd, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.Conference – Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field
Experts studying the life and work of Octavia E. Butler explore the expansive ways in which her writing and research foster a deeper understanding of the past, present, and possible futures. Cost: $25.


Xenogenesis series by Octavia Butler.




¹ “Octavia Butler Predicted a Trump Presidency 20 Years Ago“¹ by Heather Jones,
² “At the Huntington” by Karen Wada, LA Times, May 13, 2017.






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