For decades, science fiction was a genre written almost exclusively by white males. However, the genre has never been more diverse. A change thanks in large part to the first wildly successful female African American writer in the genre, Octavia E. Butler.
Butler’s pieces explore the world of otherness. Historian Gerry Canavan, author of Octavia E. Butler, discusses how Butler never believed the subject of race was taboo for science fiction. Even when her editors said her characters should only be one color other than white––purple––Butler persisted. In one piece she explores the concept of time travel––historically, a tale of triumph and land conquering for a white male time traveler.
But Butler took a different approach. She explored the terror-filled journey of a black female time traveler, as she was faced with the all-too-real notion of being enslaved. Butler won all the major awards in science fiction and opened the door for the diversification of science fiction writers as well as the genre’s characters.
Butler’s passing in 2006 at the age of 58 didn’t stop people from finding her work more and more as time progressed, says Canavan. In fact, some of Butler’s characters in Dawn are soon to make their television debut. Canavan notes that all sorts of different people can now see themselves as included in the future and that’s important, even in the make-believe world of science fiction.
- Gerry Canavan, professor at Marquette University and author, Octavia E. Butler.