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.

NEW WAVE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: 75 Best New Wave (1964–83) Sci-Fi Novels | Back to Utopia: Fredric Jameson’s theorizing about New Wave sci-fi | Douglas Adams | Poul Anderson | J.G. Ballard | John Brunner | William Burroughs | Octavia E. Butler | Samuel R. Delany | Philip K. Dick | Frank Herbert | Ursula K. Le Guin | Barry N. Malzberg | Moebius (Jean Giraud) | Michael Moorcock | Alan Moore | Gary Panter | Walker Percy | Thomas Pynchon | Joanna Russ | James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) | Kurt Vonnegut | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics | REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD: a series of posts featuring deconstructed heads from New Wave sci-fi book covers.


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.