1001 Black Men …and Three Black Women: Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler72dpi

In late summer of 1995, I read Octavia Butler’s KindredIn the summer of 2001 I set out to read all the rest of Butler’s novels. I started with Dawn, the first in the Xenogenesis trilogy, and then I read the novels of the Pattermaster series. I went on to Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, and–finally–I read Butler’s short story collection, Bloodchild.

I did a lot of my reading on the treadmill, over meals, and waiting to check out at the Berkeley Bowl, the grocery store with the longest lines in the Bay Area.

As I made my way through Butler’s startlingly impressive body of work, my thoughts kept returning to the two friends–also Black women–who introduced me to her writing. Although I didn’t read any of her work until years later, it was Camille Brewer’s enthusiastic recommendation of Kindred (“grrrrrrl, it’s deep“) that launched me down the path.

And when I got to that moment in Mind of My Mind, I finally understood why Michele Berger had spoken about that book with such enthusiasm, so many years before.

In 2005, when Butler published Fledgling, her very last novel, my partner purchased it right away. I didn’t read it at first, believing that I wanted to read the rumored third installment of the Parable series before moving onto her latest work. And then, in 2006, Butler died. There was no third novel in the Parable series, and there never would be. I immediately read Fledgling, partly to get a sense of where the writer’s creative imagination had taken her in the last years of her career. It has since become a regular part of my African American literature courses.

With any luck, some scholar somewhere will unearth one last unpublished manuscript, and we’ll all be able to take one last journey into the mind of Octavia Butler, one of the greatest science fiction writers of our time.

Ajuan Mance


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