American Literature Octavia Butler
by
Rebecca J. Holden
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0194

Introduction

Octavia E. Butler (b. 1947–d. 2006), one of the first African American science fiction (sf) authors, remains the most prominent African American women science fiction author. She was born to Laurice and Octavia M. Butler in Pasadena, CA. Her father died when she was a toddler and she was raised an only child by her mother and grandmother. Her family called her “Junie” but most of her friends called her Estelle. An avid reader her entire life, Butler wrote her first sf story when she was about twelve years old after she watched sci-fi B-movie “The Devil Girl from Mars” and realized she could write a better story. She earned an associate’s degree from Pasadena City College and took classes at both Cal State and UCLA. At the behest of Harlan Ellison, whom she met at the “Open Door” Workshop, she attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in 1971, after which she sold her first two stories, one of which, “Crossover,” was published in 1971. She published her first novel, Patternmaster, in 1976, and went on to publish a total of twelve novels, seven short stories, and ten Essays. Two additional short stories, both written early in her career, were published posthumously in 2014. Butler also gave numerous Interviews and presentations at sf conventions and conferences. Her writings transformed the science fiction field by showing us futures—usually difficult futures—in which African American women play primary roles and futures in which being black was not exceptional. She brought together multiple genres—slave narrative, fantasy, science fiction, dystopia, historical narrative, and vampire literature—and transformed sf tropes—including alien invasion, first contact, post-apocalypse, cyborgs, genetic manipulations, and others—in her boundary-breaking sf. Butler often commented that her fiction addressed three sometimes overlapping audiences: those interested in feminism, African American literature, and science fiction. Her fiction was nominated for and won the top science fiction awards, including two Hugos, two Nebulas, two Science Fiction Chronicle awards, and a Locus award. Butler was the first sf author to receive a MacArthur “genius” grant (1995) and also won a Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing from the PEN American Center (2000). Butler’s fiction and life has had a significant influence on the sf genre and field. Teaching at Clarion West, participating in panel discussions, and offering advice and mentorship, Butler inspired many from the recent generation of sf writers of color and has been claimed by the Afrofuturism movement. Her untimely death rocked the sf world, depriving society of a necessary critical and intuitive voice.

Primary Texts

In addition to two Stand-alone Novels, Kindred (1979) and Fledgling (2005), Butler wrote ten novels in three different series: five novels in the Patternist Series three novels in the Xenogenesis Series, and two novels in the Parable Series. Most of Butler’s novels and short stories, with the exception of her third novel from the Patternist series, Survivor, have been republished multiple times. The Xenogenesis novels were published twice in omnibus editions and four of the Patternist books were published in the omnibus Seed to Harvest. Butler also published seven short stories before her death in 2006, all of which are collected in the second edition of Bloodchild and Other Stories. Two other short stories were published posthumously in 2014. Some of Butler’s fiction has been adapted by other artists, including a graphic novel adaption of Kindred as well as a musical based on Parable of the Sower (see Adaptations). In addition to her fiction, Butler wrote a number of Essays that were published in magazines, online, or adapted from her talks. The citations below include the most recent reprint of each work, but are listed in order of the original publication date.

Patternist Series

Butler’s first series, the Patternist Series, focuses on a group of humans who have psionic or telepathic powers. The books were written and published out of chronological order: the first book Patternmaster (Butler 2007c) is the furthest in the future; the second, Mind of My Mind (Butler 2007b), is set in contemporary LA and tells of the genesis of the Pattern, and the fourth book Wild Seed (Butler 2007d) begins in Africa in the 1600s. Wild Seed’s protagonist Anyanwu has already appeared and died as the grandmother Emma in Mind of My Mind. The third book, Survivor (Butler 1979), is also set in the future and takes place off-planet. Neither the Patternists nor the Clayarks play a role in this book, as it involves Christian “Missionaries” who have left Earth to escape the Clayarks and Patternists. The last book, Clay’s Ark (Butler 2007a) takes place in a recognizable near future and is about the origin of the Clay Ark virus. All but Survivor were republished, some multiple times. Referring to it despairingly as her “Star Trek” novel, Butler refused to allow Survivor to be reprinted during her lifetime.

  • Butler, Octavia E. Survivor. Signet. New York: New American Library, 1979.

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    Protagonist Alana, a mixed-race child adopted by and taken off planet by white “Missionaries,” is captured by the Tehkohn (humanoid, blue-furred intelligent natives), marries, and has a child with their leader. The “friendly” other tribe, the Garkohn, have addicted the Missionaries to a local plant, hoping to get human technology to use against the Tehkohn. Alanna helps the Missionaries break away from the Garkohn. Alana’s adoptive father rejects Alanna’s new family so she returns her new tribe.

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  • Butler, Octavia E. “Clay’s Ark.” In Seed to Harvest. New York: Warner, 2007a. 453-624.

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    Reprinted three times. Well-to-do African American family is kidnapped by African American Eli Doyle (the only survivor of Clay’s Ark, the first manned spaceship to reach another planet), and locals he has infected with an alien virus. The virus mutates children of the infected into fast, and strong sphinx-like creatures. The family escapes, is captured by violent “car family,” and passes the virus to a long-haul truck driver, who spreads it across the country. First published 1984 (New York: St. Martin’s Press).

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  • Butler, Octavia E. “Mind of My Mind.” In Seed to Harvest. 255–451. New York: Warner, 2007b.

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    Reprinted two times. In 1970s LA, Doro, a four-thousand-year-old African immortal, takes on new bodies as necessary and works to breed a superhuman telepathic race. Story focuses on his daughter Mary, a young, poor, African American who during her transition to “active” telepath, creates the first Pattern, in which she connects to other telepaths. Mary has added 1500 people to her Pattern when she kills Doro in a power showdown. First published 1977 (New York: Doubleday).

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  • Butler, Octavia E. “Patternmaster.” In Seed to Harvest. 625–765. New York: Warner, 2007c.

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    The first book written and published in the Patternist series, Patternmaster is set far in the future of the Patternists. The Patternists are in constant battle with the “Clayarks,” humans that have been mutated by the Clayark disease into super-fast, super-strong, animal-like creatures. This story focuses on the takeover of the Pattern by one of the current Patternmaster’s sons. First published in 1976 (New York: Doubleday) and reprinted three times.

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  • Butler, Octavia E. “Wild Seed.” In Seed to Harvest. 1–253. New York: Warner, 2007d.

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    Reprinted four times. Doro recruits 300-year-old shape-shifter and healer Anyanwu in 1690 from her Igbo village to come to America. He marries her to one of his white sons, making her his adversary, and uses her children to enforce loyalty. She resists and escapes by taking on animal forms. She is living as a white male plantation owner when Doro finds her in 1840. Anyanwu decides to die until Doro compromises with her. First published in 1980 (New York: Doubleday).

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Seed to Harvest: The Complete Patternist Series. 1st ed. New York: Warner Books, 2007.

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    This omnibus edition includes reprints of four of the five Patternist novels, excluding Survivor, in a single volume.

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Xenogenesis Series

The Xenogenesis Trilogy begins 250 years after the Earth has been almost completely destroyed by nuclear war. An alien species, the tentacled Oankali, have collected human survivors, placed them in suspension aboard Oankali living ships, and restored the Earth—all so they can engage in a “gene trade” in which they will mix human and Oankali DNA to create a new hybrid species. Oankali will not allow humans to reproduce on their own because of what they see as the human genetic “flaw”, the fatal combination of intelligence and hierarchical tendencies. Reproduction and sex is mediated by the ooloi, the third sex of the Oankali. Book 1, Dawn (Butler 1997b), begins with Lilith’s awakening on the Oankali ship, narrating her time with the Oankali and her first attempt to “train” humans to accept the Oankali and the gene trade. Adulthood Rites (Butler 1997a), Book 2, picks up the story thirty years later. Lilith is now living in an Oankali-human village on Earth and has had several hybrid children. This book tells the story of Akin, one of Lilith’s Oankali-human children. The final book of the trilogy, Imago (Butler 1997c), takes place fifty years later and narrates the story of the first Oankali-human ooloi—both children of Lilith.

  • Butler, Octavia E. Xenogenesis. Book Club ed. New York: Guild America Books, 1989.

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    This Book Club edition includes all three books in the trilogy in a single volume. Critics often refer to the trilogy by the name of this volume.

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Adulthood Rites. Warner Books ed. Aspect Science Fiction. New York: Warner Books, 1997a.

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    Reprinted three times. Lilith’s human-Oankali baby Akin is kidnapped by human resisters who cannot have their own children. He learns much about the resisters and even after his rescue continues to contact resister villages. Akin successfully argues for a human-only settlement on Mars—so that humans can choose to enter into the trade—even if the Mars colony might be doomed because of humanity’s genetic flaw. First published 1988 (New York: Warner).

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. New York: Warner Books, 1997b.

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    Reprinted four times. Living among the Oankali on their ship, protagonist Lilith is bonded to ooloi Nikanj. Lilith is chosen to lead the first humans to return to Earth. She awakens a human group and trains them, hoping they can escape the Oankali once off the ship. The humans rebel against Lilith and are sent to Earth without her. Nikanj makes Lilith pregnant with the very first human-Oankali construct child. First published 1987 (New York: Warner).

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Imago. Aspect Science Fiction. New York: Warner Books, 1997c.

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    Reprinted three times. Centers on Lilith’s children, Jodahs and Aaor, the first hybrid ooloi, whose instability is dangerous to others. Jodahs (and eventually Aaor) become stable when they bond with humans from a group of fertile diseased humans, unaware of Akin’s Mars colony. Many from this group choose to stay on Earth with Oankali mates, and Jodahs and Aaor start a village where hybrid ooloi can find human mates and learn control. First published 1989 (New York: Warner)

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. Xenogenesis 1–3. New York: Aspect/Warner Books, 2000.

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    Renamed omnibus version that includes the complete trilogy. When Butler told her friend and fellow African American science fiction author Nisi Shawl that the publisher was looking for a new name for the trilogy, Shawl suggested “Lilith’s Brood” because it was connected to birth and kinship, yet implied a subtle horror. Butler liked the name and passed it along to the publisher.

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Parable Series

Readers’ interest in the Parables has risen significantly since the 2016 US elections; the Essays in Pierce and Mondal 2017 highlight how many see the books narrating the present political moment. The Parable books are set in a near-future dystopian American landscape. Global warming, the increasing gap between the rich and poor, illiteracy, rampant crime, drug addiction, and corporate greed have led to the general breakdown of society. Essential goods like food and clothing are expensive and scarce. Government is nominal at best. Some towns have been “bought” by multinational corporations and operate like the oppressive “company towns” of the early 20th century, where workers and their families are essentially owned by corporations. The Parable of the Sower (Butler 2016a), begins when the protagonist Lauren Oya Olamina is fifteen years old. Lauren suffers from a hyperempathy syndrome—the result of her mother’s drug addiction—in which Lauren literally feels the physical pain she witnesses. After her walled neighborhood is destroyed when Lauren is eighteen, she travels north with a few survivors, picking up others on the way and sharing Earthseed, the religion she has developed, with them. Lauren believes that Earthseed will prepare the human race for its destiny of life off-planet—a life that will force humanity into its adulthood. When the group reaches land in Northern California owned by one of its members, they found Acorn, the first Earthseed community. Parable of the Talents (Butler 2016b) focuses on the continued evolution of Earthseed. It begins from the narrative viewpoint of Lauren’s daughter Larkin in the aftermath of Lauren’s death. About four years after the end of the events in Sower, Acorn was destroyed, its inhabitants imprisoned and tortured, and its children were forcibly adopted out to white Christian families. Larkin was only an infant when she was adopted by renamed Ashe Vere. Larkin/Ashe Vere didn’t learn until she was thirty-four years old that Lauren, who goes by Olamina and has by this time become a famous cult leader, is her mother. The two never became close, but Larkin takes on the project of compiling a book using entries from her mother’s journals—those entries are interspersed with Larkin’s own memories and life in this novel. Butler had planned to write more books in this series, but was never able to complete the planned Parable of the Trickster. She blamed the stultifying effects of various blood pressure medications for the writer’s block that prevented her from continuing the series. See Canavan 2016 under Critical Monographs for discussions about and information on drafts and notes of this unfinished book.

  • Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. Earthseed Book 1. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2016a.

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    Nominated for Nebula Award, New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and reprinted four times. Written as Lauren’s journal entries and set in California in 2024–2027. Story begins when Lauren is fifteen and her gated community is overrun and her family is killed. Lauren shares her Earthseed religion with the companions she collects on the difficult, sometimes violent journey North. The book contains many Earthseed verses. The group decides to found the first Earthseed community in Northern California. Originally published 1994 (New York: Warner Books). With an introduction by Gloria Steinem.

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Talents: A Novel. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2016b.

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    Winner of Nebula Award for Best Novel (1999). Reprinted six times. Lauren’s daughter Larkin composes a book of her mother’s journal entries (recounting the fate of Acorn and the growth of Earthseed into a national movement), interspersed with Larkin’s own reflections. Larkin lives with her uncle after leaving her adoptive parents, but critical of Lauren’s cult figure status, sees Lauren only occasionally before Lauren dies (age 81) after first Earthseed shuttles leave Earth. First published 1998 (New York: Seven Stories Press).

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Stand-alone Novels

While Kindred (Butler 2004) was originally conceived of as a part of the Patternist Series in which Emma/Anyanwu is present on the plantation, the final version of this book is completely removed from Butler’s earlier works. In fact, when asked about this book, Butler always claimed that despite the time travel in the book, it was not science fiction, but instead was a “grim fantasy.” Kindred remains the most financially successful, widely read, and reprinted of all of Butler’s novels. Butler’s final novel, Fledgling (Butler 2007), was also a departure from her previous science fiction as it was her version of a vampire story. In Interviews, Butler claimed that she turned to vampire stories as a break from the cautionary stories in the Parable Series and the often depressing news of the day. Butler’s vampires are the Ina, a long-lived, pale-skinned species that were never human but lived alongside and among humans for thousands of years. While Ina may sometimes kill and feed on the blood of random humans, they usually feed on the blood of their human symbionts; the Ina saliva helps the humans heal and stay healthy and the symbionts provide food and companionship to the Ina. Material from the Butler Archive (under Archive) indicate that Butler planned to continue the series, potentially writing an Ina trilogy, but she died before she could complete another novel.

  • Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

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    Reprinted six times. Transported back and forth between 1976 Los Angeles—where she lives with her white husband—and a 19th-century Maryland slave plantation, Dana repeatedly saves Rufus (her white, slave-owning ancestor) and is treated as a slave. Unwillingly, Dana aids Rufus in raping the slave woman who will bear Dana’s ancestress. Eventually, Dana kills Rufus rather than be raped by him; she is returned permanently to her present but loses an arm. First published 1979 (New York: Doubleday).

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Fledgling. 1st ed. New York: Warner Books, 2007.

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    Reprinted once. Shori, a 53-year-old Ina (vampire) who looks like a ten-year-old African American girl, wakes up with amnesia after a fatal attack on her family. The product of genetic mixing of Ina and human DNA, Shori relearns Ina culture and collects new symbionts. Second half of book consists of Ina court proceedings again the Silks, who set up the attack. Court decides in Shori’s favor so Silk family will be dissolved and Shori can mate with Ina. First published 2005 (New York: Seven Stories Press).

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Short Fiction

Butler primarily saw herself as a novelist, but did publish seven short stories during her lifetime. The first edition of Bloodchild and Other Stories (Butler 1995) included reprints of all of her stories to date as well reprints of two Essays. The later edition (Butler 2005) included two new short stories originally published online. “Speech Sounds,” “Bloodchild,” and “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” remain her most reprinted short stories, appearing in multiple anthologies. “Bloodchild,” the most commonly anthologized, has appeared in at least twenty-five short story anthologies. After her death, her estate published in an ebook (Butler 2014) two previously unpublished short stories from the Butler Archive (in Archive). Both stories had been originally written in the early part of her career.

  • Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York: Four Walls Eight Window, 1995.

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    The first edition contains all of Butler’s short stories to date: “Bloodchild” (1984, Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Science Fiction Chronicle Awards); “The Evening and the Morning and the Night (1987, Nebula nomination, Science Fiction Chronicle Award); “Near of Kin” (1978); “Speech Sounds” (1983, Hugo Award); and “Crossover” (1971), as well as a foreword to the book, afterwards for each story, and two of Butler’s Essays, “Positive Obsession” (1989) and “Furor Scribendi” (1993).

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild and Other Stories. 2d ed. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005.

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    This reprint includes the material from the first publication as well as two new short stories originally published online at SciFi.com, “Amnesty” (2003) and “The Book of Martha” (2005)

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  • Butler, Octavia E. Unexpected Stories. New York: Open Road Media, 2014.

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    Published as an ebook, this volume contains two previous unpublished Butler stories, “Childfinder”—the story she sold to Harlan Ellison in 1971—and “A Necessary Being,” a prequel to her novel Survivor written in 1972 and found in her archives. Foreword by Walter Mosely.

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Adaptations

Current available adaptions of Butler’s fiction include a graphic novel version of Kindred (Duffy, et al. 2017) and a musical version of her Parable of the Sower (Reagon and Reagon 2018), which debuted at the Under the Radar festival in New York in 2018.

  • Duffy, Damian, John Jennings, Nnedi Okorafor, and Octavia E. Butler. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. New York: Abrams Comicarts, 2017.

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    Graphic novel version of the novel adapted and illustrated by visual artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings with an introduction by Nnedi Okorafor.

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  • Reagon, Toshi, and Bernice Johnson Reagon. Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. New York: Public Theater, Under the Radar Festival, January 2018.

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    This musical adaption of Butler’s novel was conceived of by musician-composer-singer Toshi Reagon, who wrote the music and lyrics with her mother, musician-singer-activist Bernice Johnson Reagon. The piece was originally commissioned by The Public Theater and was the central piece in the 2018 Under the Radar Festival.

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Essays

Most of Butler’s ten essays focus either on being a writer (Butler 1989, Butler 1993b, Butler 1998, and Butler 1999), or on race or difference in science fiction (Butler 1980, Butler 2000, and Butler 2001). Her other pieces discuss her feelings about the future as a science fiction writer (Butler 2000); chastise society for its failure to support public libraries (Butler 1993a); and describe her recognition of nonhuman species as beings (Butler 2002).

Interviews

Despite describing herself as “painfully shy,” Butler gave many interviews beginning in 1979 (Mixon 1979) up until shortly before her death in 2006. Conducted by journalists, other writers, academic scholars, or fans, and published in newspapers, magazines, journals, books, or online venues, many of these interviews covered similar topics. Butler was often asked about being either one of the very few black science fiction writers and, depending on the date of the interview, the only African American woman writing science fiction. In some early interviews, she said that she didn’t know any other black women writing science fiction. Later, she began mentioning other African American women writing speculative or science fiction; eventually, this topic disappeared or became how Butler was the only black woman publishing science fiction in the 1970s and 1980s (See Harrison 1980, Kenan 1991, Potts 1996, Rowell 1997). Butler often discussed what she saw as her three sometimes distinct audiences—the science fiction one, the African American one, and the feminist one—and her frustration with publishers who failed to successfully pitch her books to all three (See Potts 1996, Rowell 1997). Not surprisingly, many interviewers asked about Kindred—the most widely read of Butler’s novels. Butler often told the story about the inspiration for this novel; during the Black Nationalist movement in the 1960s, she heard a young man say “I’d like to kill all of these old people who have been holding us back for so long. But I can’t because I’d have to start with my own parents” (Rowell 1997). She noted how this attitude, which was how she felt when she was younger, failed to acknowledge how what the older generations went through enabled the younger generation’s survival (See also Beal 1986, Kenan 1991). Many interviews covered Butler’s writing in general and specific novels or stories—Govan 2005 includes interesting in-depth discussions of Butler’s last two short stories and her motivation for writing a “fun” vampire novel; in Shawl 2013 Butler talked about her experience at the Clarion workshop. Others focus on topics specific to the interviewer’s own projects—Palwick 1999 addresses environmental concerns in Butler’s fiction and Mehaffy and Keating 2001 centers on the interviewers’ project of looking at narrative embodiment in fiction. Conseula Francis republished twenty-three interviews in Conversations with Octavia Butler (Francis 2010, cited under Edited Collections). Five of the ten interviews annotated here are in Francis 2010.

  • Beal, Frances M. “Black Women and the Science Fiction Genre.” The Black Scholar 17.2 (1986): 14–18.

    DOI: 10.1080/00064246.1986.11414394Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This interview covers topics such as Butler’s interest in writing science fiction, the increase in women writing science fiction, her Xenogenesis Trilogy (here she calls it The Training Boar), and a discussion about how some people don’t think black characters belong in science fiction movies or stories because their inclusion makes the story about race. Butler also discusses in detail her motivation for writing Kindred. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Govan, Sandra Y. “Going to See the Woman: A Visit with Octavia E. Butler.” Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora 6.2–7.1 (2005): 14–39.

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    This interview covers new territory here—specifically discussions of Butler’s recent short stories, “Amnesty” and “The Book of Martha” and her difficulties in continuing the Parable series. Butler also discusses the appeal of Kindred, her desire to write a bestseller, the significance of her characters’ names, her fascination with dictionaries, and her new vampire novel that she’s writing because “it’s fun.” Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Harrison, Rosalie G. “Sci-Fi Visions: An Interview with Octavia Butler.” Equal Opportunity Forum Magazine 8.2 (1980): 30–34.

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    This Q and A with Harrison covers topics including the dearth of black science fiction writers and readers, the anthology on black science fiction that Butler had agreed to edit that never was published, and science fiction’s prophetic potential. This interview took place after the publication of Wild Seed.

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  • Kenan, Randall. “An Interview with Octavia E. Butler.” Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 495–504.

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    A lengthy phone interview conducted on 3 November 1990. Butler discusses her research for Kindred, her views on what some see as violence in “Bloodchild” and in Wild Seed, her use of African myths in Wild Seed, her feminism, and her literary influences. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Mehaffy, Marilyn, and Ana Louise Keating. “‘Radio Imagination’: Octavia Butler on the Poetics of Narrative Embodiment.” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 26.1 (Spring 2001): 45–76.

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    Referencing—in their introduction—Haraway and others who investigate Butler’s hybrid bodies, these interviewers focus on narrative embodiment and social critique in Butler’s fiction. They discuss with Butler her practice of not initially describing a character’s race, the conflict between humanity’s intelligence and hierarchical tendencies in her Xenogenesis Trilogy, sociobiology, the importance of body knowledge, the effect of Butler’s physical body on her writing, and Butler’s desire to influence her readers. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Mixon, Veronica. “Futurist Woman: Octavia Butler.” Essence 9 (April 1979): 12–15.

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    The earliest published interview with Butler, this interview took place right before Kindred was published and introduced Essence’s readers—primarily African American women—to Butler. In it Butler talks about her early life and her reasons for writing science fiction—the freedom to write about places “where people don’t despise each other because of their race or religion, class or ethnic origin”.

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  • Palwick, Susan. “Imagining a Sustainable Way of Life: An Interview with Octavia Butler.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 6.2 (1999): 149–158.

    DOI: 10.1093/isle/6.2.149Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This interview, conducted by phone by science fiction author and English professor Susan Palwick, focuses on ecological themes in Butler’s fiction as well as her personal ecological concerns. Butler discusses the biological tendency to shun what is different, the importance of biodiversity, her research and thoughts on religion in the Parable Series, and some of her ideas for the next four Parable books she had planned but never wrote. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Potts, Stephen W. “‘We Keep Playing the Same Record’: A Conversation with Octavia E. Butler.” Science Fiction Studies 23.3 (1996): 331–338.

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    In this interview, Butler claims that “Bloodchild” isn’t about slavery but is a love story. She also discusses her views on sociobiology, noting that she doesn’t endorse a classical view of sociobiology, and acknowledges her focus on reproduction and social power in her fiction. She discusses her most recently published book Parable of the Sower and her decision to use smaller presses for some books. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Rowell, Charles H. “An Interview with Octavia E. Butler.” Callaloo 20.1 (1997): 47–66.

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    One of the longest published Butler interviews, this piece includes long uninterrupted responses from Butler on the hard work of learning the writer’s craft; her family background; her reading habits; the importance of the library and the radio to her imagination; and the movie, Devil Girl from Mars, that inspired her to write science fiction. This interview also has detailed discussions on many common Butler interview topics. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Shawl, Nisi. “‘A Conversation with Octavia E. Butler.’” In Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl, 11–13, 48–50, 128–131, 170–172, 263–265. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    This interview, conducted in front of an audience by Nisi Shawl at the “Black to the Future Conference” in 2004, includes discussions on the science fiction label, Butler’s research trip for Kindred, comments by others in the 1970s that she should write about the black power movement, her inclination to write world-saving books, and the fears she had at the Clarion workshop that jumpstarted her career. (Interview transcript is excerpted as interstitial material throughout the book.)

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Archive

Following the request of Huntington’s Curator of Literary Manuscripts Sara “Sue” Hodson (now retired), Butler designated the Huntington Library as the recipient of her papers after her death. In 2008, the Huntington received approximately thirty-five large cartons and eight file cabinet drawers of Butler’s papers, which included manuscripts, extensive drafts, research material, journals, correspondence, photos, personal notes, annotated articles, books, and other materials. It took Huntington’s Assistant Curator of Literary Manuscripts Natalie Russell over three years to fully process and catalogue the material. The Octavia E. Butler Collection at the Huntington became available to scholars in late 2013 and currently it is the most accessed archive at the Library. The collection has inspired numerous events at the Huntington including an exhibition, “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories,” which ran from April 8 to August 7, 2017, and a one-day conference on June 23, 2017, “Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field,” convened by Ayana A. H. Jamieson (the founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network) and Moya Bailey (the digital Alchemist of the OEBLegacy and professor at Northeastern University). Another innovative project centered on the archive, organized by LA-based arts nonprofit organization Clockshop, was “Radio Imagination,” a yearlong series of readings, performances, panel discussions, film screenings, and other events that took place at the Library and other locations in LA. This project, which spanned 2016 (the tenth anniversary of Butler’s death), was centered on ten commissions by twelve contemporary writers and artists that were based on the Octavia E. Butler Collection at the Huntington. In 2015, the Library partnered with WriteGirl, an LA-based creative and mentoring nonprofit that works to inspire teen girls to write, and held a workshop at the Library, with a curriculum developed in part by Jamieson, to introduce Butler and her approaches to writing to seventy-five teenage girls.

Bibliographies

Until recently, Calvin 2008 was the most complete bibliography of both Butler’s Primary Texts, reviews of her work, Interviews with Butler, and scholarship on her fiction. It remains as the best catalogue of reviews of Butler’s work and was comprehensive at the time of its publication. Jones 2017, an annotated online bibliography, includes some books and works published after 2008 (see Oxford Bibliographies in African American Studies article “Octavia Butler” by Esther Jones) (see also Holden and Shawl 2013 in Edited Collections, Jones 2015 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers, pieces from Curtis 2008 and Kilgore and Samantrai 2010 in Special Journal Issues, as well as pieces covered in Calvin 2008). The Criticism section of Jones 2017 is divided into topical sections and includes approximately fifty-eight annotated secondary sources in addition to annotated entries on Butler’s fiction, Essays, and Interviews. An early bibliography, Weixlmann 1984, provides a useful catalogue of the publications and reprints of all of Butler’s primary texts and interviews up to this point, as well as reviews and criticism on Butler’s fiction. Holden and Shawl 2013 only includes Butler’s fiction, but each work is annotated.

  • Calvin, Ritch. “An Octavia E. Butler Bibliography (1976–2008).” Utopian Studies: Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008): 485–516.

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    Is a comprehensive listing of Butler’s primary works with all publication dates, interviews, and significant speeches, as well as secondary texts—including book reviews, journal articles, book chapters, and dissertations on Butler. This bibliography was published in Curtis 2008 (cited in Special Journal Issues). Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Holden, Rebecca J., and Nisi Shawl. “Annotated Bibliography of Butler’s Fiction.” In Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl, 274–287. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    Includes fairly in-depth annotations of all of Butler’s fiction published before 2013.

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  • Jones, Esther. “Octavia Butler.” In Oxford Bibliographies in African American Studies. Edited by Gene Jarrett. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

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    This online bibliography includes annotated entries on Butler’s fiction, selected Essays and Interviews, and selected Criticism—including books, book chapters, and journal articles—organized by the following topics: general overviews; genre; utopian/dystopian; feminism and gender; medicine, science, and disability; postcolonial, posthuman, and postmodern; race; religion and spirituality; and sexuality. It also lists some of the broader influences of Butler, such as Organizations and a scholarship formed in her honor.

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  • Weixlmann, Joe. “An Octavia E. Butler Bibliography.” Black American Literature Forum 18.2 (Summer 1984): 88–89.

    DOI: 10.2307/2904133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This bibliography contains all publication data for Butler’s fiction from her first six novels, four short stories, one essay, and nine interviews. It also includes reviews and academic scholarship, divided into seven sections: one general section and one for each of her published novels.

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Criticism

Criticism on Butler’s fiction continues to expand as her work draws more attention and new writers pick up on the themes she introduced into speculative and science fiction. Recently a number of Critical Monographs and Edited Collections have been published that focus solely on Butler. Numerous scholars, however, have looked at Butler’s work in relation to other writers or other movements in their Monographs on Butler and Other Writers. A few of the peer-reviewed academic journals have published Special Journal Issues focused on Butler and edited by well-regarded Butler scholars. The majority of Butler criticism Essays, the first of which was published in 1979, can be found in Journal Articles and Book Chapters, a small sample of which is annotated here. This sample has been chosen to represent the range of Butler criticism, including selections from various academic disciplines, journals, types of books, and across the time span of Butler criticism.

Critical Monographs

Currently, three published monographs focus entirely on Butler’s fiction. The first, Hampton 2010, especially seeks to bring in-depth scholarly attention to Butler’s fiction in the fields of science fiction and African American literature that Hampton sees as significantly overdue. Specifically, Hampton 2010 examines the implications of how Butler refigures the body—marked by race, gender, class, and power—and in doing so, shows how such refigurations shed light on power relations and the effects of such relations in our world and in any futures we imagine. Hampton builds on work done in Melzer 2006 and Vint 2007 (cited under Monographs on Butler and Other Writers) in both his examinations of embodiment and biopower in Butler. Bast 2015 uses Butler’s fiction exclusively to focus specifically on agency in African American literature. A German professor of American Studies, Bast claims that Butler’s oeuvre is particularly well-suited for an analysis of agency in African American literature because all of her fiction ultimately centers on the complicated nature of agency and power for her African American protagonists and she employs a wide array of literary tools to address these issues. Similarly to Hampton 2010, Bast 2015 underscores the significant theoretical and ideological work at play in Butler’s fiction. Canavan 2016 brings Butler into the selective “Modern Masters of Science Fiction Series” published by the University of Illinois Press, which includes other science fiction luminaries such as William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, Iain M. Banks, Frederick Pohl, Lois McMaster Bujold, and others. Canavan 2016 focuses on the interplay between her published work, her biography, and her unpublished drafts and private writings. As such, the book gives us an unprecedented view into Butler’s work and life.

  • Bast, Florian. Of Bodies, Communities, and Voices: Agency in Writings by Octavia Butler. American Studies: A Monograph Series 262. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2015.

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    Bast begins by defining agency and goes on to investigate agency in Butler’s fiction as it relates to the body, community, and voice. He analyzes embodies agency in Kindred and Dawn (body), investigates the role of community in relation to agency in Parable of the Talents and Survivor (community), and examines how the use of first-person narration affects agency in “The Evening, The Morning, and the Night” and Fledgling (voice).

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  • Canavan, Gerry. Octavia E. Butler. Modern Masters of Science Fiction 20. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252040665.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Canavan draws heavily on the Octavia E. Butler Collection housed in the Huntington Library to consider Butler’s complete writing career, analyzing her published work side by side with her unpublished drafts, notes, and journals. His book provides intriguing views into Butler as a writer as well as into her unpublished work and her false starts. This book also includes a reprint of Butler’s essay, “The Lost Races of Science Fiction.”

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  • Hampton, Gregory Jerome. Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2010.

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    Hampton employs feminist theory, African American criticism and theory, cultural theory, and psychoanalytical and poststructural theory. Hampton’s analysis is unique in focusing an entire chapter on Patternmaster. Other chapters focus on single works, such as Kindred and Wild Seed, or a combination of the Parable Series and stories from Bloodchild, Mind of My Mind, and Fledgling. The book includes a previously unpublished interview and a discussion between Butler, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, and Nalo Hopkinson.

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Edited Collections

While scholarship on Butler has exploded in past decade—partially inspired by the Afrofuturism movement—currently only three edited collections that are focused entirely on Butler exist. Two collections include critical and personal essays, reflecting how Butler’s life and work has significantly affected the field of science fiction, critical scholarship on such fiction, and the personal lives of writers and scholars. Both include pieces by well-known Butler scholars and science fiction writers—established and emerging—and both have been recognized as significant works within the science fiction community. All the pieces in Holden and Shawl 2013 were previously unpublished and the collection includes seven scholarly essays, many of which have informed new scholarship on Butler, as well as poems and personal essays that showcase the influence of Butler—her fiction, teaching, and mentorship—on science fiction writers and readers. While the collections have differing purposes and different tones, they have six contributors in common; in fact, Pierce and Mondal 2017 includes one reprint from Holden and Shawl 2013. Pierce and Mondal 2017 is mostly made up of personal letters and reminiscences directed to Butler that were written by Butler scholars, fans, and science fiction writers especially for this collection. The collection also includes five new short essays and a few reprints. Holden and Shawl 2013 was nominated for the 2014 Locus Award for Nonfiction and Pierce and Mondal 2017 won the 2018 Locus Award for Nonfiction. The third edited collection focused on Butler, Francis 2010, is a collection of twenty-three previously published interviews. A number of the interviews collected in Francis 2010 are annotated in the Interviews section of this bibliography.

  • Francis, Conseula, ed. Conversations with Octavia Butler. Literary Conversations Series. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010.

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    This collection, edited by Conseula Francis, usefully compiles twenty-three previously published interviews, the first one from 1979 and the last one from 2006 shortly before Butler’s death. While some of these interviews are available in full text, others are hard to find elsewhere.

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  • Holden, Rebecca J., and Nisi Shawl, eds. Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    This collection, edited by an academic scholar (Holden) and a science fiction author (Shawl), includes critical Essays, reminiscences, personal essays, correspondence, poems, photos, and a previously unpublished interview with Butler. Strange Matings traces Butler’s writing career and influence on scholars, science fiction writers, and the field of science fiction. The book also includes an annotated bibliography of Butler’s primary works and a list of important biographical dates.

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  • Pierce, Alexandra, and Mimi Mondal, eds. Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler. Yokine, WA: Twelfth Planet Press, 2017.

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    Published to celebrate what would have been Butler’s 70th birthday in 2017, Luminescent Threads is an impressive collection of letters to Butler and essays about her fiction. The book includes new pieces by fifty-nine writers and scholars—including Raffaella Baccolini, Moya Bailey, Steven Barnes, Gerry Canavan, Jewelle Gomez, Rebecca Holden, Valjeane Jeffers, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Karen Lord, Nisi Shawl, Sheree Renée Thomas, Hoda Zaki, and others—and seven reprinted pieces.

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Special Journal Issues

While no Edited Collections made up of only scholarly Essays on Butler have been published, three special journal issues help to fill this void. The earliest special journal issue comes from Utopian Studies, a journal that publishes pieces on utopian literature, theory, and intentional communities by scholars from a wide range of disciplines. The pieces in Curtis 2008 highlight how Butler’s fiction, despite the pessimism and darkness in the stories, point humanity toward possible better futures. This issue as a whole has a special focus on the Xenogenesis trilogy and Fledgling novel, but all pieces, including the analyses of some of Butler’s short stories, touch on the role of violence and the deeply embedded ambiguity Butler asks her readers to accept as necessary in the futures she imagines. Published two years later, Kilgore and Samantrai 2010, sought to memorialize Butler and highlight the significant ongoing scholarship following Butler’s death in 2006. The editors connect Butler’s fiction here to the Afrofuturist movement, though they see her fiction as connected to Afrofuturism instead of being a strong example of Afrofuturism; for later scholars and readers, Butler’s fiction is central to literary Afrofuturism. The four essays published in this special section all focus on bodies and biology, some looking at the questions of essentialism, evolution, or symbiosis in Butler’s fiction. While Kilgore and Samantrai 2010 does not encompass this complete issue of Science Fiction Studies, the well-researched introduction, careful selection of essays, and significant “Reflections” section following the essays makes this special section an influential part of Butler scholarship. In Bailey and Jamieson 2017, editors Moya Bailey and Ayana A.H. Jamieson draw on materials from the Butler archives housed in the Huntington Library and open this special issue by discussing how Butler’s fiction—in particular the latent state of the Patternists from that series and the hyper-empathy suffered by the protagonist of the Parable Series—connects to Butler’s experience of our world; in particular, Bailey and Jamieson point out how the Archive materials examined alongside her published work provides what they call “palimpsestic memorialization.” While only one of the three scholarly articles published in Bailey and Jamieson 2017 analyzes materials from the Butler archive, the pieces all examine the complex layering that goes on in Butler’s fiction and draw on up-and-coming scholarly fields, including animal studies and disability studies, in view of recent political movements.

  • Bailey, Moya, and Ayana A. H. Jamieson, eds. Special Issue: Octavia E. Butler. Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International 6.2 (2017).

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    This 2017 special issue opens with a nonacademic piece—the opening remarks by Ruha Benjamin from a symposium organized by the editors and Benjamin to honor Butler’s legacy in a post-Ferguson world—and includes an intriguing introduction by Bailey and Jamieson as well as three scholarly pieces by emerging Butler scholars. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Curtis, Claire, ed. Special Issue: Octavia Butler. Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008).

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    This issue includes five scholarly pieces on Butler’s fiction, two of which (see Belk 2008 in Xenogenesis Journal Articles and Book Chapters and Brox 2008 in Fledgling Journal Articles and Book Chapters) have been cited often in the last ten years, as well as one of the few published pieces by Curtis that analyzes the two short stories Butler published in her last years. The issue also includes the most comprehensive bibliography to date on Butler and Butler scholarship (see Calvin 2008 in Bibliographies). Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Kilgore, De Witt Douglas, and Ranu Samantrai, eds. Special Section on Octavia Butler. Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (2010).

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    This special section begins with a thorough introduction from Kilgore and Samantrai that traces the significant themes in and influence of Butler’s fiction. The subsequent four Essays are significant entries into Butler scholarship. The “Reflections on Octavia E. Butler” contains short pieces from Butler’s friends and colleagues—Vonda McIntyre, Sandra Y. Govan, Jeffrey Allen Tucker, Veronica Hollinger, Sweta Narayan, Marleen Barr, and Joan Gordon—and is reprinted in Pierce and Mondal 2017 (see Edited Collections). Available online by subscription or purchase.

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Monographs on Butler and Other Writers

The comprehensive 2008 bibliography (Calvin 2008, cited under Bibliographies) identifies a handful of monographs that consider Butler in depth, but includes sixty-one dissertations that do so. A search of the MLA database in August 2018 uncovered thirty-two such dissertations submitted after 2008. Given the large number of dissertations with significant analysis of Butler, the uptick in monographs since 2008 with chapters on Butler is not surprising. The burgeoning interest in Afrofuturism, of which Butler is identified as one of the progenitors, and the 2013 opening of the Butler Archive will continue to feed scholarly publications on Butler. Most current monographs, including the ten annotated here, engage with Butler’s work within literary traditions that correlate to the three audiences Butler identified for her fiction: the science fiction one, the feminist one, and the African American one. Donawerth 1997 situates Butler’s use of utopian science and boundary-breaking protagonists in the tradition of women writers reworking science fiction to achieve their own revolutionary aims while Melzer 2006 uses Donna Haraway’s feminist cyborg theory to demonstrate how Butler’s fiction engages with feminist theory. Vint 2007 continues in this vein, looking at the posthuman in science fiction beyond the feminist lens to consider the ethics of posthuman subjectivity divided from embodiment. Grayson 2003 and Thaler 2009 contextualize previous analyses by focusing attention on how race, African history and culture, and the American slave past affect Butler’s visions of the future and past, with Thaler 2009 focusing significantly on black feminism. Lavender 2011 engages with Butler in a much broader consideration of race in science fiction, a history in which Butler is one of the major figures. Lillvis 2017 extends Lavender’s study with a more focused consideration of Afrofuturism, posthumanism, and black female subject positions in neo-slave narratives, including Butler’s. Some recent books study Butler’s fiction outside of these three traditions. Jones 2015 focuses specifically on the interactions with medicine in fiction by Butler and other black women and engages with the medical ethics field and emerging disability studies theory. Schalk 2018 dives even deeper into disability studies theory in her readings of Butler and draws on the recently opened Octavia E. Butler Collection (cited under Archive) to analyze Butler’s choices and difficulties in imagining various “bodyminds” for her characters. Colbert 2017 considers Butler’s fiction as a black cultural production and examines it alongside other such productions, including those associated with Afrofuturism, to show how they connect to black political movements.

  • Colbert, Soyica Diggs. Black Movements: Performance and Cultural Politics. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2017.

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    This book examines the historical contexts of black performances in film, music, literature, dance, and other cultural acts (including Beyoncé, Toni Morrison, Kanye West, Josephine Baker, and others) to highlight how such performances play into black political movements. Chapter 3 focuses exclusively on Butler’s use of a black female prophetic voice in the Parable Series to call out existing social structures that subjugate women in general and black women in particular.

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  • Donawerth, Jane. Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

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    Donawerth examines the practices of 20th-century women writers in reworking science fiction and addressing the problem of “masculinist science.” Butler’s fiction is addressed in all of the book’s three chapters, which focus on utopian science, alien monster women, and cross-dressing as male narrators. Donawerth comments on much of Butler’s oeuvre, with particular focus on the utopian science in “Bloodchild,” and Butler’s boundary-breaking use of multiple narrators in the Xenogenesis trilogy.

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  • Grayson, Sandra M. Visions of the Third Millennium: Black Science Fiction Novelists Write the Future. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2003.

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    Light on conclusions, this slim volume provides close readings and plot summaries of fiction by Butler (four out of eight chapters), and by Samuel Delany, Steven Barnes, Charles Saunders, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, and Levar Burton, to highlight how black writers use sf to investigate race and gender. Grayson describes how Butler draws on African history and showcases differing ways of creating community out of African pasts.

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  • Jones, Esther L. Medicine and Ethics in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction. Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science, and Medicine. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137514691Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on black women writers’ concern with black women’s experiences with medical professionals and the medical field, this book highlights how writers—Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, and Toni Cade Bambara—speculate and share new strategies for black women’s health and survival. Two of the book’s four chapters focus on Butler: chapter 1 on Fledgling and genomics and chapter 4 on the Parable books and feminist disability theory.

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  • Lavender, Isiah, III. Race in American Science Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

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    While this ambitious study discusses the role of race in a long list of science fiction books, film, music, and television—its list of primary sources is over seven pages long—four of its six chapters include analysis of Butler’s fiction. The only other writer to receive similar attention here is Samuel R. Delany.

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  • Lillvis, Kristen. Posthuman Blackness and the Black Female Imagination. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1pwt608Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book seeks to investigate the relationships among black women’s liminality, Afrofuturism, and posthuman theory. Specifically, Lillvis analyses neo-slave narratives by contemporary black women writers as a lens into current, past, and future black identities. Chapter 4 (out of five chapters) focuses exclusively on Butler’s investigations of the Middle Passage in Wild Seed, Kindred, and “A Necessary Being.”

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  • Melzer, Patricia. Alien Constructions: Science Fiction and Feminist Thought. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2006.

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    Melzer draws on female cyborg figures in science fiction to investigate how science fiction texts engage with feminist theory to help readers understand difference and oppression. The first two chapters analyze Butler’s fiction exclusively (Patternist series, Xenogenesis Trilogy, and Kindred), focusing on identity and difference. The final chapter analyzes gender performativity in Wild Seed. Later Butler scholarship often draws on this book; Hampton 2010 (cited in Critical Monographs) specifically seeks to expand Melzer’s work.

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  • Schalk, Sami. Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)Ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.

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    The first monograph on black authors’ representations of disability, this book uses black feminist theory and disability studies to analyze fiction by Butler, Phyllis Alesia Perry, N.K. Jemisin, Shawntelle Madison, and Nalo Hopkinson. Half of the book focuses on Butler: chapter 1 on neo-slave narratives and Kindred and chapter 4 on the “bodyminds” in Butler’s Parable books. Schalk borrows “bodymind” from disability studies theorist Margaret Price to indicate that inseparability of mind and body.

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  • Thaler, Ingrid. Black Atlantic Speculative Fictions: Octavia E. Butler, Jewelle Gomez and Nalo Hopkinson. Routledge Research in Atlantic Studies. New York: Routledge, 2009.

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    This book examines fiction by black women that imagines futures with a deep awareness of America’s slave past and present racism. Specifically, it examines the hybrid black culture in Butler’s fiction. Half of the book focuses exclusively on Butler; chapter 1 analyzes past and timelessness in Wild Seed and chapter 4 examines the dystopian vision and move to utopian connections that cross race, class, and gender boundaries in Parable of the Sower.

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  • Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

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    Cited in most scholarship on Xenogenesis trilogy, Vint investigates embodiment and subjectivity by analyzing technologically enhanced posthuman subjectivity and the importance of the body in various science fiction texts, including novels by Butler, Gwyneth Jones, Iain M. Banks, William Gibson, Ellen Ullman, Pat Cadigan, Raphael Carter, Jack Womack, and Neal Stephenson. Chapter 2 exclusively examines Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy and the effects of gene manipulation on our concepts of human identity.

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Journal Articles and Book Chapters

The amount of scholarship on Butler continues to grow—most of it in various peer-edited journals and in Edited Collections of Essays focused on multiple writers from various critics. Some give a general overview of Butler’s fiction or look at a theme across multiple novels or in comparison with her Short Fiction. General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters includes the most influential of these pieces as well as a representation of Criticism on Butler’s short fiction. The other sections, Patternist Series Journal Articles and Book Chapters, Kindred Journal Articles and Book Chapters, Xenogenesis Journal Articles and Book Chapters, Parable Series Journal Articles and Book Chapters, and Fledgling Journal Articles and Book Chapters, each contain a limited selection (ten citations) of the many articles and book chapters on the relevant book or book series. These selections were chosen to represent a wide array of the existing criticism—covering criticism from varying time periods, academic disciplines, journals, and theoretical perspectives. As such, the annotated selections are limited and provide only a starting point for those interested in research on Butler’s work.

General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters

Early critical pieces—those published in the 1980s and early 1990s—often look at Butler’s oeuvre as it currently stood and serve as general overviews. Govan 1984 and Allison 1990 both focus on Butler’s black female protagonists, one highlighting how these women take on power and the other somewhat disheartened by how Butler’s women submit to dominant forces and take on the self-abnegating mother role (see Foster 1982 and Salvaggio 1984 in Patternist Series Journal Articles and Book Chapters for other early overviews of Butler’s protagonists). Because Butler returns again and again to similar themes in her fiction, it’s not surprising many critics analyze these themes across multiple novels, series, and stories. Power relations, as many critics point out, are key to all Butler’s fiction; Lacey 2008 examines Butler’s last three novels in light of a Foucauldian framework of power and argues that Butler moves readers (and feminists) beyond that framework while Foster 2013 notes that many readers misread the power dynamics of the Xenogenesis Trilogy and explains how one of her last short stories, “Amnesty,” provides a corrective to those misreadings. Many scholars, despite Butler’s claim that she did not write utopias (see Beal 1986 in Interviews), read Butler’s work as part of the utopian tradition. Zaki 1990 provocatively posits that Butler locates all of her utopian elements within alien societies—a position many critics take issue with. Others discuss Butler’s utopianism as critical, open-ended, or dystopias with utopian possibilities (Green 1994, Miller 1998, Baccolini 2000; see also Melzer 2002, Stillman 2003, and Peel 2008 in Parable Series Journal Articles and Book Chapters). In general, Butler’s Short Fiction has received little critical attention. The one exception is “Bloodchild,” which won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Science Fiction Chronicle awards in 1984; Helford 1994 provides an early example of scholarly work on this “pregnant man” story. “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” (Lavender 2014) and “Speech Sounds” (a Hugo award winner) have also drawn critical attention. The last two short stories she wrote, both originally published online and then later reprinted in the updated Bloodchild and Other Stories 2005 edition, also received scholarly attention for their thought experiments, revision of alien invasion trope, and again, the utopian notions the stories employ and discard. (See also Donawerth 1997, Lavender 2011, and Lillvis 2017 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers, and also Bast 2015 and Canavan 2016 in Critical Monographs for extended readings of Butler’s short fiction.)

  • Allison, Dorothy. “The Future of Female: Octavia Butler’s Mother Lode.” In Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., 471–478. New York: Meridian, 1990.

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    Well-known fiction writer notes frustration with what she sees as Butler’s propensity for all her female characters to submit to dominate forces, taking on the selfless motherhood model—which Allison claims Butler promotes as the “humanizing element in society” (p. 471)—at the cost of selfhood. At the same time, Allison praises Butler’s realism, social criticism, fascinating female characters, as well as her multilayered exploration of sexual relations, women’s responsibility to be mothers, and the “fine line between compromise and betrayal” (p. 477).

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  • Baccolini, Raffaella. “Gender and Genre in the Feminist Critical Dystopias of Katharine Burdekin, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler.” In Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Edited by Marleen S. Barr, James Gunn, Karen Hellekson, and Sheila Finch, 13–34. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

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    Baccolini analyzes late-20th-century feminist dystopias and builds on Tom Moylan’s “critical utopia” to name a new genre, “critical or open-ended dystopia,” which blends genres and incorporates utopian hope. Baccolini reads Lauren’s Earthseed community as a limited, imperfect utopia within a dystopic landscape in which the community members must remain cynical. Baccolini doesn’t explicitly highlight any utopian hope in Kindred, but points to the blurring of genres, dystopic slave past, and ambiguous ending as characteristics of open-ended dystopia.

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  • Foster, Thomas. “‘We Get to Live, and So Do They’: Octavia Butler’s Contact Zones.” In Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl, 140–167. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    Foster discusses his students’ misreadings of Xenogenesis, in which Oankali are oppressive alien invaders, and analyzes “Amnesty” as a response to such misreadings. Foster argues that Butler casts Oankali xenophilia as preferable to humanity’s xenophobia, even though Oankali practice needs to moderated. “Amnesty,” Foster claims, makes necessary coexistence with the truly alien more explicit, making it difficult to dismiss the aliens as imperialistic slavetraders but still acknowledging the violence enacted by them and the inequities that remain.

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  • Govan, Sandra Y. “Connections, Links, and Extended Networks: Patterns in Octavia Butler’s Science Fiction.” Black American Literature Forum 18.2 (Summer 1984): 82–87.

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    This often-cited article analyzes Butler’s published work to date (the first four Patternist books, and Kindred), highlighting Butler’s focus on power. Govan discusses the pairing of strong black female protagonists with strong male characters, which she claims underscores differences between feminine and masculine values. Govan calls Mary (Mind of My Mind) a “symbiont,” in contrast to the “male vampire” Doro. Current Butler scholarship still engages with and argues about the meanings of such terms in Butler’s fiction. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Green, Michelle Erica. “‘There Goes the Neighborhood’: Octavia Butler’s Demand for Diversity in Utopias.” In Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference. Edited by Jane L. Donawerth, Carol A. Kolmerten, and Susan Gubar, 166–189. Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies 3. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.

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    Analyzing Butler’s ouevre—with particular focus on “Bloodchild,” Clay’s Ark, “Speech Sounds,” “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” Kindred, and Xenogenesis—Green highlights how Butler critiques and expands 1970s feminist utopias by insisting upon meaningful differences among people (race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, and others). Green insists that despite the apparent dystopias Butler puts her characters into, her work is ultimately utopian, even though it isn’t static and the characters work through significant problems.

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  • Helford, Elyce Rae. “‘Would You Really Rather Die Than Bear My Young?’: The Construction of Gender, Race, and Species in Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Bloodchild.’” African American Review 28.2 (Summer 1994): 259–271.

    DOI: 10.2307/3041998Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using Jardine’s concept of gynesis—the tendency to essentialize the feminine in asserting women’s presence and importance—Helford reads the human boy from “Bloodchild,” who is impregnated by the alien, as a metaphor for woman, feminine, slave, or animal. Although it’s clear these categories are defined by those in power, Helford notes the limits of Butler’s critique because of the biological underpinnings for gender roles here, but claims the story’s unsatisfying closure makes readers uncomfortable with categories that define all of us. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Lacey, Lauren J. “Octavia E. Butler on Coping with Power in Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Fledgling.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 49.4 (Summer 2008): 379–394.

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    This often quoted piece provides insight on how we might understand power relations in Butler’s fiction through a Foucauldian framework. While feminists have decried Foucault’s usefulness, because he offers no escape from power hierarchies, Lacey claims that Butler shows how understanding the pervasiveness of power allows her protagonists to accumulate power and respond to power hierarchies, including creating new communities and revamping dominant discourses. Lacey’s depiction of Ina-symbiont relationships is sometimes critiqued as overly positive. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Lavender, Isiah, III. “Digging Deep: Ailments of Difference in Octavia Butler’s ‘The Evening and the Morning and the Night.’” In Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction. Edited by Isiah Lavender III, 65–82. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

    DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781628461237.003.0005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lavender argues that critics should consider “The Evening . . .” as a story about race in which the diseased stand in for victims of cultural racism and racial othering. He points out textual details that support such a reading—including passing, eugenics, and segregation—and the conspicuous absence of race that calls into question the “white” default. While the writing is somewhat convoluted, the piece makes an interesting argument about how we might read this story.

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  • Miller, Jim. “Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler’s Dystopian/Utopian Vision.” Science Fiction Studies 25.2 (1998): 336–360.

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    Miller places Butler as belonging to and critiquing feminist utopias. In Xenogenesis and The Parable of Sower he finds post-utopian hoping in which characters resist intellectual pessimism with optimistic will. Miller describes the novels in depth, critiquing Zaki’s reading that conflates Butler’s viewpoint with the Oankali’s while praising the argument in Peppers 1995 (cited in Xenogenesis Journal Articles and Book Chapters) that Butler favors neither the Oankali or resister humans, but a third choice. He connects Earthseed’s openness to Haraway’s cyborg and Gloria Anzaldúa’s “mestiza consciousness.” Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Zaki, Hoda M. “Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler.” Science Fiction Studies 17.2 (1990): 239–251.

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    Focusing on Clay’s Ark and the first two Xenogenesis books, Zaki argues that Butler’s fiction endorses essentialist notions regarding both gender and humanity’s propensity toward violence. In Zaki’s viewpoint, Butler doesn’t believe that human action can improve society; thus, as the only way out seems to come from alien interventions, non-science-fictional change is impossible. Zaki also sees Butler as presenting the Oankali as utopian. However, Zaki argues Butler’s fiction successfully critiques the racial blindness in other feminist sf. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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Patternist Series Journal Articles and Book Chapters

While the few early critical pieces published on Butler—such as Foster 1982 and Salvaggio 1984 which introduce readers to Butler’s strong black female protagonists and issues of power—focus on the first four Patternist novels, this series remains the least studied of Butler’s novels. Sometimes seen by critics as less developed, the Patternist Series is overshadowed by the widely-studied neo-slave narrative Kindred, the Haraway-endorsed cyborg Xenogenesis trilogy, and the utopian/dystopian Parable Series. However, as is clear from Butler’s own notes and published critical work, Butler continually revisits the themes introduced in this series. Some critics extend the investigations of power in Butler and further analyze how Butler’s black female protagonists highlight questions about power, agency, and survival; Holden 2013 brings Haraway’s feminist cyborg theory into Butler’s first three novels, arguing that Butler experiments with hybrid characters to uncover their potential for agency, survival, and connection to black gendered selves (see also Melzer 2006 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers). Ferreira 2010 also draws on Haraway, but focuses on Haraway’s biopolitical theory as well as Margulis’s theory of symbiosis to discuss how boundary-crossing is key to Butler’s characters’ survival in Patternist worlds. (See Hampton 2010 in Critical Monographs for another reading on the body’s transformative power.) Wild Seed has received the most critical attention of the series; many book chapters, such as Okonkwo 2008 (see also Grayson 2003, Lillvis 2017, Thaler 2009 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers) analyze Butler’s use of African myths and history in Wild Seed while others (Afful 2016 and Duchamp 2013) read Wild Seed’s Anyanwu as a prime example of a powerful hybrid transgressive woman from the African diaspora who illustrates new modes of being. Wild Seed also provides rich fodder for the relatively recent field of animal studies; Dubey 2008 looks at how Butler turns the typical woman-as-animal trope on its head with Anyanwu’s practice of becoming animal as a way to escape forced reproduction. Vint 2005 begins with a brief look at animal imagery in the early Patternist books and moves onto an in-depth reading of the much less studied Clay’s Ark grounded in Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of ‘becoming” animal. Michel 2013 brings queer theory into the mix with an examination of both the representations of shame—particularly in the out-of-print Survivor, in connection to Butler’s own shame about the book—and with how Butler deals with shame in her other novels.

  • Afful, Adwoa. “Wild Seed: Africa and Its Many Diasporas.” Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies 30.4 (2016): 557–573.

    DOI: 10.1080/02560046.2016.1240963Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Afful argues that Wild Seed is an early example of feminist Afrofuturism, one that can displace the primacy of the Middle Passage to explain the identity of Africans in America. Afful uses Wild Seed to investigate the often sidelined subjectivity of first and second generation women immigrants from Africa. Sometimes theoretically cumbersome, this piece provides an interesting updated reading of Wild Seed in light of new African immigration to North America. Available online by purchase or subscription.

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  • Dubey, Madhu. “Becoming Animal in Black Women’s Science Fiction.” In Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Edited by Marleen S. Barr, 31–51. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2008.

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    Dubey analyzes women becoming animal in Butler’s Wild Seed and Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber. Dubey argues while Anyanwu’s transformations in Wild Seed allow her to engage in violence and other practices not socially acceptable for women, often her transformations allow her to escape enforced reproduction and sexual slavery. Dubey doesn’t see Butler’s Anyanwu as progressive, but grounded in humanist ideology, albeit one that has been influenced by her connections to the animal world and with feminist goals.

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  • Duchamp, L. Timmel. “‘Sun Woman’ or ‘Wild Seed’? How a Young Feminist Writer Found Alternatives to White Bourgeois Narrative Models in the Early Novels of Octavia Butler.” In Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl, 82–94. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    Science fiction writer and publisher Duchamp argues that Wild Seed provides for her and others a model for writing nonpolemical political fiction. Duchamp insightfully explains how third-wave feminism, which complicated the second wave’s notion of gender oppression, also complicates her earlier reading of the male Doro as the binary opposite of the female Anyanwu, allowing her to understand Anyanwu’s plurality as powerful, though not in a way recognized by white bourgeois culture.

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  • Ferreira, Maria Aline. “Symbiotic Bodies and Evolutionary Tropes in the Work of Octavia Butler.” Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (2010): 401–415.

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    This piece examines symbiotic or parasitic relationships in Butler’s Patternist books. Drawing on Margulis’s symbiosis theory, Serris’s work on parasitism, and Haraway’s biopolitical theories, Ferreira argues that Butler uses the parasitic Mary (Mind of My Mind), the animal-like second generation of virus carriers (Clay’s Ark), and the shape-shifting Ananyawu (Wild Seed) to point out how we may have to forgo our current sense of what it means to be human to survive into the future. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Foster, Frances Smith. “Octavia Butler’s Black Female Future Fiction.” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 23.1 (Spring 1982): 37–49.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.1982.23.1.37Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the earliest and often cited critical pieces, this article analyzes the black female characters at the center of Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, and Survivor. Foster argues that racial and gender conflict are not the central focus of the novels (and feminist and African American literary critics may be unsatisfied by the novels’ ambiguity), but that Butler investigates how power relations—affected by race and sex—might play out in her imagined futures. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Holden, Rebecca J. “‘I Began Writing about Power Because I Had So Little’: The Impact of Octavia Butler’s Early Work on Feminist Science Fiction as a Whole (and on One Feminist Science Fiction Scholar in Particular).” In Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl, 17–44. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    Drawing on Haraway’s feminist cyborg theory, Holden analyzes Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, and Wild Seed to highlight what she sees as Butler’s experimentations with hybrid identities that allow women of color to be visible and powerful in imagined futures and pasts. Holden argues Butler’s black female protagonists become increasingly connected to their bodily histories, which allows them to survive, have agency, and remain “true” to their African American selves.

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  • Michel, Frann. “Ancestors and Aliens: Queer Transformations and Affective Estrangement in Octavia Butler’s Fiction.” In The Female Face of Shame. Edited by Erica L. Johnson and Patricia Moran, 100–118. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

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    This theoretical piece, which includes a useful plot summary of the out-of-print Survivor, references queer theorist Sedgwick’s work regarding the positive transformative power of shame. Michel posits that Butler’s shame about this novel (which she refused to have reprinted) may have more to do with how Survivor’s protagonist, unlike Butler’s other protagonists who overcome shame to survive, accepts shame to become part of a community, rather than with its unrealistic and colonialist Star Trek elements.

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  • Okonkwo, Christopher N. A Spirit of Dialogue: Incarnations of Ọ́gbañje, the Born-to-Die, in African American Literature. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2008.

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    In his study of the Ọ́gbañje or spirit child from Igbo and Yoruba cultures in African American sf, Okonkwo devotes one chapter to examining how Butler uses the Ọ́gbañje in Mind of My Mind and particularly Wild Seed to harken back to African roots, engage with Chinua Achebe’s rendition of the myth, and set her science fiction as firmly rooted in the lived history and culture of African Americans’ African past.

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  • Salvaggio, Ruth. “Octavia Butler and the Black Science-Fiction Heroine.” Black American Literature Forum 18.2 (Summer 1984): 78–81.

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    Another often cited early piece, this short study of Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, and Wild Seed highlights Butler’s interest in race and sex. Similar to Foster, Salvaggio focuses on Butler’s black female protagonists and how their presence and strength disrupts typical sf portrayals of black women. Salvaggio describes each protagonist as showcasing different kinds of feminism, from brute force to compromise in waging battles against the white patriarchy— past, present, and future. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Vint, Sherryl. “Becoming Other: Animals, Kinship, and Butler’s Clay’s Ark.” Science Fiction Studies 32.2 (2005): 281–300.

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    This piece examines how Butler’s fiction forces readers to rethink boundaries between humans and animals. Vint briefly describes Butler’s uses of animal imagery in the early Patternist books to draw parallels to slavery. Vint’s in-depth reading of Clay’s Ark—grounded in Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of ‘becoming” animal and Haraway’s cyborg politics—examines the fears about losing our humanity and the necessity of accepting new animal/human identities to survive into a future where humans seem determined to destroy each other. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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Kindred Journal Articles and Book Chapters

The mostly widely read Butler novel, Kindred, remains one of the most studied. As of August 2018, the MLA bibliography lists approximately seventy articles, chapters, and books on Kindred. It is also Butler’s first piece studied extensively outside of sf studies. Significant academic interest comes from scholars who study 19th-century slave narratives or African American literature. Levecq 2000 and Long 2002 focus on Kindred as a neo-slave narrative that provides an insiders’ view to the historical past, making slave history immediate. Donawerth and Scally 2017 takes a unique route into Kindred by literally tracing Butler’s—and by extension the protagonist Dana’s—research trip to Maryland, visiting Maryland’s Eastern Shore (the setting of the novel) and Baltimore’s Maryland Historical Society, and discussing the historical documents Butler may have read. Others investigate Kindred from a science fiction studies perspective, looking at how sf elements affect Butler’s take on slave history. Yaszek 2003 argues that Butler’s use of sf tropes—time travel and the alien encounter—underscores how Dana is marked by and complicit in her slave past. Richard 2005–2006 sees these elements as key to Butler’s interrogation of the term ‘postcolonial’ and critique of colonialism from an African American perspective. Robertson 2010 takes to task both readings of Kindred he sees as fixated on an ahistorical cyborg reading that excludes embodiment and traditional literary readings that ignore its sf elements. Robertson makes a strong argument for a nuanced reading of biopolitics in Kindred, focusing on how Butler demonstrates that American history is embedded in black female bodies but doesn’t analyze the novel’s sf elements in depth. Flagel 2012 more overtly addresses how the two genres interact, highlighting how each interrupts the conventions of the other, ultimately making American slavery more immediate for readers. Setka 2016 introduces a new take on Kindred’s supernatural elements by using the novel to define the phantasmic trauma narrative; Setka claims Butler draws on Igbo cosmology to facilitate Dana’s time travel and uses non-Western cultural specifics to connect the reader to slavery’s traumatic past. The subversiveness of Dana’s 1970s-era loving interracial relationship with her white husband serves as the focus for Foster 2007 and opens up Kindred to queer readings. Knabe and Pearson 2013 builds on Foster’s reading and analyze the disorienting “queerness” of time travel and kinship in Kindred through the lens of various queer theories. See Schalk 2018 for a take on the novel from a disability studies perspective as well as Lillvis 2017; Melzer 2006 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers; and Hampton 2010 and Bast 2015 in Critical Monographs for additional studies of Kindred.

  • Donawerth, Jane, and Kate Scally. “‘You’ve Found No Records’: Slavery in Maryland and the Writing of Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 58.1 (Spring 2017): 1–19.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2017.2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors trace Butler’s 1970s research trip to Maryland and uncover historical documents that Butler may have drawn on in writing Kindred. The piece includes a few photos of houses on the Eastern Shore and fascinating historical accounts—including one about a house on the Eastern Shore set on fire by a former slave and another about a slave woman who “sterilized” her white rapist—that may have influenced Butler’s narrative choices. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Flagel, Nadine. “‘It’s Almost Like Being There’: Speculative Fiction, Slave Narrative, and the Crisis of Representation in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” Canadian Review of American Studies 42.2 (2012): 216–245.

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    This article analyzes the interactions of slave narrative and speculative fiction in Kindred, specifically how Butler uses the slave narrative to question accepted tropes of speculative fiction (alienation, dystopia, master-slave dichotomies) and, in the most compelling part of this piece, how Butler revises the slave narrative convention regarding the power of literacy. Flagel highlights how Dana’s belief in her literacy is, at best, misleading and, at worst, reprograms her to accept her position. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Foster, Guy Mark. “‘Do I Look Like Someone You Can Come Home to from Where You May Be Going?’: Re-Mapping Interracial Anxiety in Octavia Bulter’s Kindred.” African American Review 41.1 (Spring 2007): 143–164.

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    A unique analysis of the subversive (and potentially queer) interracial relationship between Dana and Kevin, this piece argues that such a depiction is allowed by contemporary readers because it is masked by the expected sexual subjugation of black women. Foster argues Butler’s portrayal of this consensual black/white relationship disrupts the expected assumptions about race, politics, and sex in African American cultural discourse and serves as a precursor to 1990s critical theories about “whiteness.” Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Knabe, Susan, and Wendy Gay Pearson. “‘Gambling against History’: Queer Kinship and Cruel Optimism in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” In Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl, 51–78. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    This fascinating piece examines levels of queerness in what the authors note may be Butler’s “most resolutely heterosexual book.” After applauding the queering of Dana and Kevin’s relationship in Foster 2007, they analyze the queering effect of time travel, and focus in-depth on Dana’s kinship relations—both because of how slavery queered black peoples’ familial relations and queer theory that defines kinship as something people do and not something people are.

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  • Levecq, Christine. “Power and Repetition: Philosophies of (Literary) History in Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred.” Contemporary Literature 41.3 (Spring 2000): 525–553.

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    Levecq characterizes Butler’s rewriting of the slave narrative as a conscious interrogation of history, highlighting again its constructiveness, nonprogressive features, and cyclical nature. Levecq claims that Butler’s adaptation of the slave narrative exposes the genre’s gaps and draws attention to its own textual constructedness. Overall, this analysis sees Kindred as highlighting the constructedness of history at the same time that it points out how some versions of history are more valid than others. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Long, Lisa A. “A Relative Pain: The Rape of History in Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Phyllis Alesia Perry’s Stigmata.” College English 64.4 (March 2002): 459–483.

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    Long analyzes how Kindred pushes its readers, along with the narrator, to experience slavery in a visceral way. Interestingly, Long insists the nonfantastical elements of this book highlight slavery’s realness and ongoing consequences. Long argues Butler uses physical pain to authenticate history—Dana is penetrated by the past. Long includes interesting responses from students, who sometimes dislike Kindred because it reminds them that slavery is more than just distant history. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Richard, Thelma Shinn. “Defining Kindred: Octavia Butler’s Postcolonial Perspective.” Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora 6.2–7.1 (Fall/Winter 2005–Spring/Summer 2006): 118–134.

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    Investigating how Butler’s fiction participates in postcolonial discussions, this article highlights how Kindred shows how the past can trap us into being who we are, but the Parable Series, discussed here in length, show how we can make conscious choices to shape the future and choose kindred outside of blood relatives. An interesting take on colonialism in Butler, but the article lacks a clear conclusion about this contrast. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Robertson, Benjamin J. “‘Some Matching Strangeness’: Biology, Politics, and the Embrace of History in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (November 2010): 362–381.

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    Robertson critiques the neo-slave narrative readings of Kindred, which ignore its sf elements, or cyborg readings, which ignore history and embodiment. Robertson’s analysis of how Dana’s black female body interacts with American history provides an intriguing critique and enhancement of previous biopolitical or historical readings. However, this article doesn’t fully engage with Kindred’s sf elements, beyond a critique of scholarship that focus on the cyborg elements in Butler. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Setka, Stella. “Phantasmic Reincarnation: Igbo Cosmology in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 41.1 (Spring 2016): 93–124.

    DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlv059Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Setka argues Butler adapts the West African ogbanje figure, a spirit capable of traveling between worlds, to create in Kindred a prime example of a “phantasmic trauma narrative.” Using culturally specific, supernatural elements, this phantasmic narrative is neither magic realism nor science fiction, but, Setka claims, an “American ogbanjism” that brings West African traditions into African America stories, underscoring the real trauma of slavery in both the past and the present. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Yaszek, Lisa. “‘A Grim Fantasy’: Remaking American History in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28.4 (Summer 2003): 1053–1066.

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    In examining how sf tropes in Kindred question the relationship between history and commercial culture, Yaszek highlights the rising importance of African American history and mass media’s efforts to sell us either colorblindness or the lone black male hero. Yaszek argues Kindred, like its peers, focuses instead on the networks of kin black women rely on, but is unique in its use of sf tropes to underscore Dana’s complicity in her slave past. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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Xenogenesis Journal Articles and Book Chapters

Most of the scholarship on the postapocalyptic Xenogenesis trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago), focuses on three topics: utopian and dystopian themes, Haraway’s feminist cyborg metaphor (posthumanism), and essentialism. Given that Haraway taps Butler as one of the feminist sf authors whose fiction is peopled by cyborgs, it’s not surprising critics analyze Butler’s work in reference to Haraway’s cyborg theory. Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” initially published before Dawn, mentions Wild Seed, Kindred, and Survivor, but the 1991 revision (Haraway 1991) discusses Lilith from Dawn as a prime cyborg example. Haraway’s essay on biopolitics, chapter 10 of Haraway 1991, gives a more in-depth reading of the cyborg. Critics address the Xenogenesis “cyborgs” from varied perspectives. Smith 1993 discusses how the specifics of the Xenogenesis cyborgs keep the trilogy from the very marketable (and academically acceptable) category of cyberpunk. Federmayer 2000 examines how the cyborg Lilith mediates between the Oankali and human, complicating conventional notions of black motherhood. Holden 1998 acknowledges the benefits of Lilith’s choice to become cyborg—survival—but pushes against those who read this choice as an easy, unconstrained one or see the Oankali as purely utopic cyborgs. Similarly, Jacobs 2003 focuses on Butler’s ambivalence regarding the posthuman world and identities represented by the Oankali and the construct children, arguing the trilogy may be read as a cautionary tale about the extremes of both humanism (the fatal human contradiction at the core of this trilogy) and posthumanism (the construct ooloi’s lack of coherence in Imago—see also Melzer 2006 and Vint 2007 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers.) Peppers 1995 takes on potential cyborg origin stories and claims that Xenogenesis rewrites origin stories for its cyborgs. The utopia/dytopian debate here often centers on Butler’s connection to 1970s feminist sf utopias and debates regarding essentialism, which some critics celebrate and others critique. Many—including Peppers 1995, Belk 2008, and Stickgold-Sarah 2010—push back against Zaki’s condemnation of Butler’s supposed essentialism and presentation of Oankali society as ideal (see Zaki 1990 in General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters). Instead, they see a blending of utopia and dystopia (Belk 2008), a critical dystopia (Jacobs 2003), or a pessimistic utopia (Stickgold-Sarah 2010). Tucker 2007 summarizes Xenogenesis scholarship focusing on the interrogations of race and gender—taking readers through the main conclusions about Xenogenesis up to this point. White 1993 and Stickgold-Sarah 2010 analyze these topics alongside relevant scientific discourse—that of modern evolutionary theory (White) and post-DNA genetics (Stickgold-Sarah).

  • Belk, Nolan. “The Certainty of the Flesh: Octavia Butler’s Use of the Erotic in the Xenogenesis Trilogy.” Utopian Studies: Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008): 369–389.

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    Belk draws on Audre Lorde’s theory of the erotic and argues that Butler is pushing humans to embrace change by showing her protagonists as taking on bodily erotic knowledge in their connection with the Oankali. Setting the trilogy in the tradition of critical feminist utopias, Belk categorizes Xenogenesis as what Baccolini calls the open-ended dystopia, in which the Oankali mode of life is radically better than humanity’s, but imperfect. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Federmayer, Éva. “Octavia Butler’s Maternal Cyborgs: The Black Female World of the Xenogenesis Trilogy.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 6.1 (Spring 2000): 103–118.

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    Federmayer sees the utopian aspects of the trilogy as tied to Harawayian cyborg identities of Lilith and her construct children. Lilith is not presented as Mother of the Race or essential Mother Goddess, but functions as a mediator between the Oankali—who are neither uncomplicated saviors, nor simple enemies—and humans; she manages to help her people survive and maintain hope. Federmayer presents the Oankali as somewhat positive—not colonizers, but traders. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

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    Haraway’s famous Cyborg Manifesto (chapter 8) includes Butler’s black female protagonists, including Lilith from Dawn, in its list of feminist cyborgs. “The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Constitutions of Self in Immune System Discourse” (chapter 10) includes an in-depth reading of Dawn, setting it as “salvation history,” but not a utopia—Haraway acknowledges the violence of the Oankali trade, but notes that there is no way out of this cyborg world.

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  • Holden, Rebecca J. “The High Costs of Cyborg Survival: Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 72 (Spring 1998): 49–56.

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    Claiming that the Oankali embody Haraway’s utopic ironic cyborg and challenge traditional notions of identity, Holden points out that the Oankali are imperialistic colonizers who do not accept difference, but absorb it. Lilith’s choice to become cyborg who can survive and be productive in this future, Holden argues, is painful and involves self-betrayal. Akin’s successful argument for a human-only colony on Mars further emphasizes the constraints of this cyborg choice.

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  • Jacobs, Naomi. “Posthuman Bodies and Agency in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis.” In Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination. Edited by Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan, 91–111. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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    Jacobs analyzes Xenogenesis as a feminist critical dystopia positing a postmodern critique of humanism, or a cautionary tale about the extremes of both humanism and posthumanism. She discusses feminist theories of the cyborg, border-dwellers, and nomads. Jacobs highlights Butler’s ambivalence about the two utopian possibilities—the Mars human-only colony and the hybrid Oankali-human constructs—but claims that Butler presents the postmodern hybrid choice as both beautiful and horrible, but more hopeful.

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  • Peppers, Cathy. “Dialogic Origins and Alien Identities in Butler’s Xenogenesis.” Science Fiction Studies 22.1 (March 1995): 47–62.

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    Reading the Oankali as postmodern, anti-origin cyborgs and the human resisters as representing essentialism, Peppers counters Zaki’s reading and argues that Xenogenesis demonstrates Butler’s preference for a third choice, represented by Lilith’s construct children who demonstrate the feminist desire to rewrite four traditional origin stories (the Biblical, biological, anthropological, and slave narrative) and shows how these stories have been used to oppress certain people. Peppers claims Xenogenesis reveals how to acknowledge difference without endorsing essentialism.

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  • Smith, Stephanie. “Morphing, Materialism, and the Marketing of Xenogenesis.” Genders 18 (December 1993): 67–86.

    DOI: 10.5555/gen.1993.18.67Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This playful, but highly theoretical piece, discusses morphing tech in music videos, Benneton’s famous ad campaigns, and Haraway’s transgressive cyborg. Smith poses an interesting critique of Haraway’s frustration with Butler’s “so-called failure” regarding an insistent heterosexuality. Most interestingly, Smith comments on obvious links between Butler’s fiction and cyberpunk, but notes that Xenogenesis has not been given that market boost because of its concern with what cyberpunk abhors—the flesh. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Stickgold-Sarah, Jessie. “‘Your Children Will Know Us, You Never Will’: The Pessimistic Utopia of Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy.” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 51.3 (Fall 2010): 414–430.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2010.51.3.6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Countering scholarship that labels Xenogenesis as deterministically dystopic, Stickgold-Sarah claims Butler’s engagement with post-DNA genetic theory uncovers utopian possibilities. Stickgold-Sarah does see Butler presenting certain characteristics as intrinsic to physical bodies, but by imagining aliens that can easily alter DNA, Butler presents a hopeful, radical refiguring of deterministic genetic discourse. For Butler (and Stickgold-Sarah), the question isn’t whether or not human behavior is biologically determined, but how we can enact change given any limitations. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Tucker, Jeffrey A. “‘The Human Contradiction’: Identity and/as Essence in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy.” Yearbook of English Studies 37.2 (2007): 164–181.

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    Tucker analyzes the ongoing critical discussion about Xenogenesis’s take on race and gender, with particular focus on essentialism, arguing (via Diana Fuss) that the politics behind the position regarding essentialism is more important than the position. Tucker also outlines critical counters to those who read Xenogenesis as a neo-slave narrative. Ultimately, Tucker concludes that Butler doesn’t necessarily see race and gender as essences, but that humanity needs to find a way around its hierarchical programming. Available online by subscription.

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  • White, Eric. “The Erotics of Becoming: Xenogenesis and The Thing.” Science Fiction Studies 20.3 (November 1993): 394–408.

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    Starting by examining The Island of Dr. Moreau and Kristeva’s characterization of “abjection,” White analyzes Xenogenesis (and the 1982 The Thing), in terms of modern evolutionary thought. While The Thing expresses horror regarding evolutionary flux, White argues that Butler addresses this horror, ultimately depicting the loss of static human identity positively. Like others, White notes the seemingly ideal posthuman nature of the Oankali, but sees Butler critiquing the aliens and unfettered evolutionary flux, as well as humanity.

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Parable Series Journal Articles and Book Chapters

Scholarly interest, like the rising readers’ interest, in the Parable series is avid; the MLA bibliography, as of August 2018, lists almost seventy articles, chapters, or books on the series—the same as for Kindred. The topics span a wide range—perhaps because of the multiple genres, cultures, literary traditions, and political perspectives the series engages. As in much of her fiction, Butler draws on African American history and literary traditions—including the slave narrative and the journey “North”; Mayer 2003 holds up Sower as a neo-slave narrative that revises the tradition to highlight the structural changes necessary to achieve environmental justice. Others examine the Parables in light of other African American literary traditions; Dubey 1999 and Gant-Britton 1999 argue that Butler writes in a tradition of African American women’s literature, but her presentation of science and focus on the future set her fiction apart from that of her peers. Similarly, Ruffin 2005–2006 connects the Parables to the tradition of black women fiction writers critiquing the Bible, as well as to Afrofuturism. Not surprisingly, given the Parables’ post-apocalyptic setting and its Earthseed religion and accompanying community, scholars such as Stillman 2003 and Peel 2008 analyze its utopian/dystopian themes or revision of religious traditions; many build on the notion of these books as critical dystopias, as defined and delineated in Baccolini 2000 in General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters. Some (Melzer 2002) focus on the intersection between feminism and utopian hope. The Parables also clearly fit into the category of near-future, postapocalyptic sf; Joo 2011 argues that Butler revises certain sf tropes to critique the inevitable outcome of late capitalism and delineate how race functions in this dystopic landscape. Wachter-Grene 2015 brings in queer theory, pointing out how Earthseed’s queerness enables it to be a site for political coalition building. Levy 1998 provides interesting insights about how Butler rewrites the traditional coming-of-age books for girls, providing adolescent girls—all at risk of succumbing to society’s erasure of self and agency—with a model of community building and selfhood that can withstand the pressures of late-20th-century life. See Schalk 2018 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers for a recent framing of the series in terms of disability studies. See Lacey 2008 in General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters; Bast 2015 and Hampton 2010 in Critical Monographs; Colbert 2017, Jones 2015, and Thaler 2009 in Monographs on Butler and Other Writers for additional scholarship on the Parables.

  • Dubey, Madhu. “Folk and Urban Communities in African-American Women’s Fiction: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” Studies in American Fiction 27.1 (Spring 1999): 103–128.

    DOI: 10.1353/saf.1999.0017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Dubey analyzes Sower in light of the southern folk aesthetic privileged in the African American women’s fiction tradition. While Butler similarly critiques urban consumption, Dubey argues Butler doesn’t set up rural life as an ideal opposite because Earthseed’s heaven relies on modern technology and thus sits in contrast to the “magical ways of knowing” at the heart of the folk aesthetic. Also, Earthseed community isn’t built on racial identity and valorizes literacy, connecting it to the older tradition of slave narratives. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Gant-Britton, Lisbeth. “Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” In Women of Other Worlds: Excursions through Science Fiction and Feminism. Edited by Helen Merrick and Tess Williams, 280–294. Nedlands, Australia: University of Western Australia Press, 1999.

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    Gant-Britton argues that unlike protagonists from other novels by black women, Butler’s Lauren looks to the future and is not concerned with re-visioning the past. Gant-Britton explains how Lauren, with her new master narrative of Earthseed, provides a model for empowered black womanhood. She outlines how Lauren and her Earthseed group exist in the dystopic present at the same time they are becoming agents of change.

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  • Joo, Hee-Jung Serenity. “Old and New Slavery, Old and New Racisms: Strategies of Science Fiction in Octavia Butler’s Parables Series.” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 52.3 (Fall 2011): 279–299.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2011.52.3.2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Joo argues that Butler deftly uses two sf tropes to expose the shifting meanings of race and racism in late capitalism. Joo reads Butler’s use of walls (used in classic sf to encase societies) as highlighting how race functions to bolster late capitalism. He further argues—somewhat less convincingly—that Butler employs the empathy trope (used in sf to distinguish humans from robots and cyborgs) as a reminder that race is neither real (essential) nor an illusion (constructed with no real effects). Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Levy, Michael M. “Ophelia Triumphant: The Survival of Adolescent Girls in Recent Fiction by Butler and Womack.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 72 (Spring 1998): 34–41.

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    Levy examines Sower in light of Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (New York: Riverhead, 2005) arguing that Pipher’s advice about what helps girls survive contemporary society without losing themselves sheds light on Lauren’s survival and success in Butler’s dystopian near future. In contrast to Womack’s Lola from Random Acts of Senseless Violence (London: Gollancz, 2013), Levy argues Lauren learns to adapt when she must to the evil around her, change her circumstances, and found a new community.

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  • Mayer, Sylvia. “Genre and Environmentalism: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Speculative Fiction, and the African American Slave Narrative.” In Restoring the Connection to the Natural World: Essays on the African American Environmental Imagination. Edited by Sylvia Mayer, 175–196. FORECAAST: Forum for European Contributions to African American Studies 10. Münster, Germany: LIT, 2003.

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    Labeling Sower as “apocalyptic ecologism,” Mayer discusses Butler’s use of slave narrative traditions to posit a critique of current social and environmental ills, demonstrating how social and environmental justice are intertwined. Mayer provides a close reading of Sower as a neo-slave narrative that takes on and revises much of the tradition’s structure, strategies, tradition, and narrative devices in its effort to show that the only way to create an environmentally sustainable world involves societal transformation.

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  • Melzer, Patricia. “‘All That You Touch You Change’: Utopian Desire and the Concept of Change in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.” FEMSPEC: An Interdisciplinary Feminist Journal 3.2 (2002): 31–52.

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    Looking at the intersection of utopia, feminist politics, and feminist sf, Melzer addresses many of the themes picked up in later scholarship, such as Lauren’s pragmatic political strategies, Earthseed’s positive connection to technology, racial diversity as not exceptional, and utopia as process. Pointing out the connection between Lauren’s strategies and cyborg politics, Melzer notes that Larkin’s critique of her mother could be a critique of feminist groups making alliances with questionable partners.

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  • Peel, Ellen. “‘God Is Change’: Persuasion and Pragmatic Utopianism in Octavia E. Butler’s Earthseed Novels.” In Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Edited by Marleen S. Barr, 52–74. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2008.

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    Focusing on what she names “pragmatic utopianism,” Peel analyzes how persuasion works in the Parables. Peel argues that the novels subtly persuade readers and the characters that Earthseed is a viable utopian alternative to the dystopian present; at the same time, the multiple voices and critiques of Lauren in Talents asks readers rethink Sower. Still, Peel contends that Butler never undermines the tenets of Earthseed, but seems to ask readers to question the ethics of persuasion itself.

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  • Ruffin, Kimberly J. “Parable of a 21st Century Religion: Octavia Butler’s Afrofuturistic Bridge between Science and Religion.” Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora 6.2–7.1 (Fall–Winter 2005–Spring–Summer 2006): 87–104.

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    Ruffin places Butler’s Parables in the tradition of black women fiction writers critiquing the Bible, but notes that Butler’s Afrofuturist stance distinguishes her critique from others. Connecting Butler’s fiction to Afrofuturism (and other Afrofuturists) and black feminism, Ruffin highlights how Butler rewrites the Bible and advocates for individual interpretations of texts to fit Earthseed’s futuristic, journey-to-the-stars, vision that includes African Americans and their history, privileging science over faith. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Stillman, Peter G. “Dystopian Critiques, Utopian Possibilities, and Human Purposes in Octavia Butler’s Parables.” Utopian Studies: Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 14.1 (2003): 15–35.

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    Well-known utopia scholar Stillman reads the Parables as classic dystopias warning readers about the path we are on—by connecting to current societal trends—and imaging how we might change course. Stillman describes in detail both books’ dystopic landscapes and notes that attempts to find utopian possibilities end up constrained or disastrous; yet, he claims Butler presents two utopian possibilities (Earthseed or Acorn) that humans can work toward, even if Butler sees the task as monumental. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Wachter-Grene, Kirin. “Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower: Queer ‘New Stories’ of the ‘Fourth Dimension of Citizenship.’” In Apocalyptic Projections: A Study of Past Predictions, Current Trends and Future Intimations as Related to Film and Literature. Edited by Annette M. Magid, 40–60. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2015.

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    Wachter-Grene brings queer theory into her assessment of the relevance of Butler’s Earthseed “idea/philosophy/religion.” Arguing that Earthseed is both pragmatic and heretical, she claims that it is Earthseed’s queerness—in terms of race, sex, religion, and family—that enables it to be potentially redemptive in the postapocalyptic Parable world. She sees Earthseed’s multiracial, interclass, intergeneration aberrant networked family as Butler’s metaphor for political coalition building.

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Fledgling Journal Articles and Book Chapters

Even though Butler claimed in multiple interviews (see Francis 2010 in Edited Collections and Govan 2005 in Interviews) that Fledgling was her “fun” vampire novel, much of the Criticism describes how Butler continues, as she reinvents the vampire trope, to investigate the themes that persist across all her fiction: race, sexuality, power, colonization, hierarchies, community, complicity, symbiosis, biology, survival, and boundary-crossing. Some highlight how the relationship between the vampire Ina and their human symbionts model positive communities and relationships that embrace the other (see Lacey 2008 [cited in General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters], Brox 2008, and Nayar 2012); others note the inequities and coercion involved any Ina-symbiont relationship, but still argue that Butler specifically presents Shori’s symbiont relationships and resulting community as more positive than negative—perhaps representing a better way or at least a less restrictive one (see Bast 2010, Fink 2010, Evans 2013, Sanchez-Taylor 2017, Knutson 2018). Still, critics apply a wide variety of critical perspectives to the novel in investigating these themes: Evans 2013 draws on theories of trauma, Fink 2010 uses narratives of illness and pathology, Sanchez-Taylor 2017 draws on Butler’s notes and drafts from The Octavia E. Butler Collection at the Huntington, Knutson 2018 employs concepts of liminality and the grotesque, and Nayar 2012 uses Haraway’s companion species theory. Morris 2012 casts Fledgling as an Afrofuturist text highlighting how Butler upends the idealized white male figure of the vampire and inserts a black transgressive and powerful female vampire at the center of a new future. Following other recent interest in Butler from disability studies, Pickens 2014 outlines how this novel revises our views of disability and race, focusing attention on the intersection of the two. Young 2015 comes at Fledgling from a completely new angle and brings our attention to the legal proceedings that take up the second half of the novel—arguing that the performative side of such proceedings highlight both the necessity and the inevitable failure of such a system.

  • Bast, Florian. “‘I Won’t Always Ask’: Complicating Agency in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling.” COPAS: Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies 11 (2010).

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    Drawing on and responding to Lacey 2008 in General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters and Brox 2008, Bast analyzes Fledgling’s interrogations of power, agency, and genetic determinism. Bast argues the symbiotic relationship here is not one of equals. He sees Butler as suggesting that a level of dependence, with its accompanying happiness, may be more desirable then full agency. Bast claims Butler stops short of espousing biological determinism, but presents biological urges as able to direct behavior if unchecked.

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  • Brox, Ali. “‘Every Age Has the Vampire It Needs’: Octavia Butler’s Vampiric Vision in Fledgling.” Utopian Studies: Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 19.3 (2008): 391–409.

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    This piece argues Butler’s hybrid vampire embodies a somewhat troubled utopian vision that rejects purity and embraces difference. Brox connects Fledgling to the utopian elements Green 1994 (cited in General Overviews, Mixed Series, Short Fiction Journal Articles, and Book Chapters) identifies in earlier novels. Brox oddly implies that Shori destabilizes boundaries in a way Butler’s previous protagonists have not. The piece concludes by wondering how Butler may have extended the benefits or explored possible negative consequences of Shori’s “miscegenation” if she had continued the series. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Evans, Shari. “From ‘Hierarchical Behavior’ to Strategic Amnesia: Structures of Memory and Forgetting in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling.” In Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl, 237–262. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    Evans argues convincingly that Fledgling continues to explore the past themes found in Butler’s fiction, but sees Butler going in a new direction in suggesting we must first forget our past to move forward. Drawing on theories of trauma, Evans explains how Shori’s amnesia allows her critical distance from the Ina’s supposedly “natural” hierarchies. This amnesia doesn’t erase the past or effects of biology, but Evans argues Butler is showing us how we might use intellect to work through trauma, overcome biological urges, and create a more ethical society.

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  • Fink, Marty. “AIDS Vampires: Reimagining Illness in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling.” Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (November 2010): 416–432.

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    Following traditional interpretations of vampires as metaphors for sexual and/or racial deviance, Fink reads Butler’s vampires as a metaphor for HIV/AIDs that reveals deviance and difference, sexual coercion, and addiction as not inherently negative. Fink uses queer readings of vampire literature, and a somewhat convoluted argument regarding Fledgling’s sf elements, to substantiate his claim. Noting how racism and the inequitable Ina-symbiont relationship undermine the seemingly utopian Ina, Fink argues the Ina highlight how we might moderate stigma attached to disease by deconstructing cultural assumptions. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Knutson, Lin. “Monster Studies: Liminality, Home Spaces, and Ina Vampires in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling.” University of Toronto Quarterly: A Canadian Journal of the Humanities 87.1 (Winter 2018): 214–233.

    DOI: 10.3138/utq.87.1.214Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Knutson summarizes much of the previous criticism on Fledgling as she argues that her reading differs from others in locating Shori’s power in her liminality. Knutson’s analysis draws heavily on Victor Turner’s liminality concept in which individuals seek spaces between categories from which to oppose social and/or political constraints. Knutson further claims that Shori refigures the Ina-symbiont relationship as not primarily addictive or inequitable, but (alluding to Bahktin) as a positive, though not utopian, “grotesque communitas relationship.” Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Morris, Susana M. “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 40.3–4 (2012): 146–166.

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    This convincing article identifies Fledgling as a black feminist Afrofuturist novel—like other black women authors, Butler transforms the vampire from an enchanted ideal of whiteness or romanticized patriarchy into a transgressive queer figure that undermines conservative notions of identity and community. Morris asserts Fledgling is not simply a reactionary text and uses it to define “Afrofuturist feminism,” in which black women, like Shori, transform their species, society, family structures, and thus the future. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Nayar, Pramod K. “A New Biological Citizenship: Posthumanism in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 58.4 (Winter 2012): 796–817.

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    Engaging Giorgio Agamben’s concept of bíos, Nayar claims Shori’s posthuman biology—Ina and human—serves as the site of individual and species memories and marks the beginning of a new species. Nayar asserts Shori’s multiple-species biology embodies Haraway’s companion species ideal and its accompanying mutual ethical responsibility. Nayar seemingly ignores Ina’s racism and the coercion present even in Shori’s relationships to her symbionts and presents Shori’s personal community as one with a positive mutual dependency. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Pickens, Therí A. “‘You’re Supposed to Be a Tall, Handsome, Fully Grown White Man’: Theorizing Race, Gender, and Disability in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 8.1 (2014): 33–48.

    DOI: 10.3828/jlcds.2014.3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This piece seeks to rectify Butler scholars’ failure to consider disability as another “discourse of power” and disability studies’ failure to engage with race. Arguing Fledgling reveals that racism and ableism don’t necessarily work together to hold up structural inequalities, Pickens highlights how Shori’s antagonists and allies undermine her embodied knowledge by asserting Shori is simultaneously too-Ina or not-Ina because of her amnesia and disability or her blackness. Pickens further claims Shori’s disability and race allow her to form more mutual symbiont relationships. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Sanchez-Taylor, Joy. “Fledgling, Symbiosis, and the Nature/Culture Divide.” Science Fiction Studies 44.3 (November 2017): 486–505.

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    Drawing heavily on Butler’s drafts from the Butler Archive, Sanchez-Taylor argues Fledgling presents two forms of symbiosis—the Ina-human symbiont relations, which are troubled by cultural beliefs and hierarchies; and the human and Ina DNA in Shori, which combine to create a successful transgenic being. Sanchez-Taylor analyzes Butler’s revisions to Fledgling in which Butler emphasizes Shori’s empathy with her symbionts to show Shori as a successful example of mutual symbiosis—both within herself and her interspecies relationships. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Young, Hershini Bhana. “Performing the Abyss: Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and the Law.” Studies in the Novel 47.2 (Summer 2015): 210–230.

    DOI: 10.1353/sdn.2015.0027Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This fascinating and unique reading analyzes the performative aspects of the court proceedings that dominate the second half of Fledgling. Young reads Butler’s speculative justice alongside the racism of today’s justice system, showing how the Ina’s reactions mimic and resist contemporary society’s anxieties. Young argues Butler’s depiction critiques the failure of the American legal system to address social justice, especially in relation to slavery, but insists the attempt needs to be made to recognize the ongoing trauma. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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Organizations

Butler’s death in 2006 inspired academics, fans, and writers to come together and start organizations focused on studying, honoring, and continuing her work. While the Carl Brandon Society is focused on fans of color in sf and was founded years before Butler’s death, the Society’s Octavia E. Butler Scholarship seeks to continue Butler’s support of sf writers of color. The Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and The Octavia E. Butler Society, both founded by Butler scholars, provide resources to scholars and all those interested in Butler’s fiction. The Legacy also is involved in outreach work, connected with artists and other nonprofit groups in celebrating Butler’s fiction and her life as a black woman writer.

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