Prodigy is, at its essence,
adaptability and persistent, positive obsession.
These words, quoted from a verse that opens Octavia Butler's 1994 novel, The Parable of the Sower, might be used to describe Butler's approach to her own prodigious writing.
Butler, 48 years old, is the only African-American woman science fiction writer whose work is self-supporting. She advises people who hope to become writers that the best way to learn writing is to sit down every day and write: "there are three things to forget about. First, talent. I used to worry that I had no talent, and it compelled me to work harder. Second, inspiration. Habit will serve you a lot better. And third, imagination. Don't worry, you have it."
Butler attended California State University and Pasadena College, but states that her most important education as a writer came from two writing workshops: the first was taught by Harlan Ellison at the Screen Writers' Guild of America; the second was the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop.
The Parable of the Sower was nominated for a Nebula Award, and in June 1995, the MacArthur Foundation awarded her a "Genius Grant" in recognition of a writing career that spans four decades and has included ten novels: Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, Kindred, Wild Seed, Clay's Ark, Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago, and Parable of the Sower. Bloodchild and Other Stories, a collection of her short stories, will be published this fall.
The "Genius Grant" is an impressive award: $295,000 to be disbursed over the next five years (Butler's only plan for the money so far is to fulfill a lifelong dream of purchasing a house for herself and her mother).
However, the speculative fiction community has been honouring Butler's work for at least a decade. Her short story "Speech Sounds" won a Hugo in 1984 for best short story, and "Bloodchild" won both the 1984 Hugo and the 1984 Nebula as best novelette.
Parable of the Sower is the coming-of-age story of Lauren Olamina, a young Black girl who creates a belief system she calls Earthseed, a vision of hope, caring and personal growth in a future Los Angeles that has been torn apart by violence, poverty, racial tension and drug abuse. When the protected neighbourhood enclave in which Lauren lives is brutally raided and destroyed by the homeless people who live outside it, Lauren's family must face the outside world. She cobbles together the survivors, and uses the philosophies of Earthseed to hold them together as they search for a place where they can live according to her vision. As with all Butler's work, it is a realistic, uncompromising look at issues of power, race, and survival.
Butler hopes to complete a sequel, Parable of the Talents, in 1996.
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