Widely acclaimed science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler visited Temple University on Nov. 7 and spoke about her use of writing as social criticism.
Butler said that although there is no singular theme that she attempts to communicate through her writing, her works are social criticisms.
“When you live in this country, you have to face the facts of your condition,” she said.
Butler said that the genre of science fiction allowed her to reflect upon political discourse, ecological destruction, socio-economical oppression and global capitalism through tales of forced alien breeding and isolated utopias.
Temple’s women’s studies program hosted the forum with Butler, who is the scholar in residence of the Women’s Studies Consortium.
The consortium is a Philadelphia-area group that coordinates programs addressing gender issues with women’s studies programs at local universities.
Butler has published 11 novels and one collection of short stories.
She is currently working on the third novel in her “Parable” series, which includes “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents.”
Her writing has twice been honored with two of science-fiction’s top honors: a Nebula award for “Blood Child” and a Hugo award for “Speech Sounds.”
She was also the recipient of a $295,000 “genius” grant from the MacArthur foundation in 1995.
Women’s Studies professor Patricia Melzer, who wrote her dissertation on Butler’s work, said that Butler’s writing “stands in contrast to the traditional sci-fi that relies on white experience.”
“Butler critically examines power and social relations through elements of gender, race and class by creating fantastical worlds,” Melzer said.
Butler described how her life has affected her as a writer and as its influence on her decision to write in the genre of science-fiction.
She said that growing up a woman in Los Angeles in a strict Baptist family did not allow her many career choices.
She began creating mystical stories at the age of 10, and after seeing what she considered to be misogynistic science-fiction film, “Devil Girl” from Mars, she was determined to write better stories within the genre.
“[I am] a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist always, a black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive,” Butler said.
Butler said that personal experience fuels her work.
Even previous jobs have given her material for stories.
She encouraged aspiring writers to record their own life experiences and to try to write everyday, aside from taking classes and attending workshops.
She attributed her success to “voracious reading and writing.”
“Every day, even if it’s just an hour, you should sit down and write,” she said. “Try to make it a habit, and you’ll see development.”
Temple professor of English Samuel Delany participated in the forum with Butler.
Delany and Butler are considered to be two of the most notable African-American science-fiction authors, and have worked together previously at various workshops on science–fiction writing.
Katie Bashore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org