Octavia E. Butler
By: Jason Grote | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Literature, Sci-Fi


Much has been written (and rightly so) about white appropriation of black culture, but it’s only recently — in these days of Barack Obama, Pharrell Williams, and TV on The Radio — that we hear talk of the reverse: the ascendancy of the Afro-nerd, the black embrace of culture that’s long been considered “white.” Like millennial Christianity, geekdom is inherently utopian in its disregard of racial categories. This is why I love to think of the young OCTAVIA E. BUTLER (1947-2006) poring over 1950s SF magazines in her working-class Baptist household, imagining other possible worlds. Winner of Hugo and Nebula Awards, and the first SF writer to win a MacArthur, Butler used SF as a Brechtian alienation device to explore not only race relations, but equality, asymmetric warfare, and humanitarian law. In Kindred, she combined time travel with slave narrative; in Lilith’s Brood, she used the tropes of alien invasion and Darwinist thought-experiment to presuppose the Iraq War by more than a decade; and in her Parable series, she used the apocalypse to talk about slum culture and gated communities. Since Butler, the future has never been the same.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Félix Fénéon, Green Gartside, David Rees, Schoolly D, Todd Rundgren.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).

Octavia Butler, Schooly D, Todd Rundgren, , David Rees.



Jason Grote is a playwright, television writer, and librettist. His best-known play is 1001, a deconstruction of the tales of the Arabian Nights. He wrote for season one of Smash, and is currently a writer for Mad Men.