Octavia Butler's papers going to the Huntington Library
The papers of Octavia Butler, the stereotype-shattering science fiction writer, will be added to the collection in the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., which also houses the papers of Christopher Isherwood, Charles Bukowski and Jack London.
The Pasadena-born Butler, the daughter of a shoe-shiner and a maid, found her voice in science fiction when few women -- and fewer African Americans -- were writing in the genre. She won two Hugo awards, two Nebula awards and was the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur "Genius" grant.
Butler had a longstanding relationship with the Huntington: she had given lectures there and participated in a contemporary authors reading series. Sara "Sue" Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts, had approached Butler about her papers years ago; the writer later told her she'd included the Huntington in her will. “I was over the moon about it, but I’m crushed to see it come true so soon," Hodson said. Butler died of an apparent stroke at age 58 in 2006. "We are so grateful for her gift but so very sorry that she’s gone.”
Butler's biggest-selling novel remains 1979's "Kindred," in which a 20th-century African American woman is pulled back in time to the antebellum South, where she must save a white plantation owner who is her ancestor. Harlan Ellison, with whom Butler studied when she was 18, called it a "rare magical artifact."
The tensions of race appeared in and around her work. She used fantastical situations to highlight real-world issues of race and power. But she was told by fellow African Americans, she said at a 2004 conference, that they didn't read science fiction because "we're not there." And early on, some of her books featuring African American characters wound up with cover illustrations with whites or aliens instead.
“Octavia Butler was not only an award-winning science fiction writer, but in a broader context, an important American literary figure, and her papers will be an invaluable resource for scholars,” said David Zeidberg, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington.
Butler, who lived alone, described herself as "comfortably asocial -- a hermit in the middle of a large city, a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive."
Her papers -- more than 39 cartons of manuscripts, notebooks, correspondence, photographs and even school papers -- will be available to researchers sometime next year.
Huntington staff are now processing the collection, which will be available to researchers in the coming year.
Sara “Sue” Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts, had asked Butler years ago if she would be interested in placing her papers at The Huntington.
The collection comprises 39 cartons and eight file-cabinet drawers of manuscripts, correspondence, school papers, notebooks, photographs, and other materials.
Photo credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Joshua Trujillo / Associated Press