African American History Month and Science Fiction

Quick: can you name an African-American science fiction author?  Author Octavia E. Butler has re-emerged after being overlooked.  Chicago Tribune writer John Warner notes that her prominence took a back seat “likely because she was a woman and African-American.” 

Butler described a future that is coming true today.  In Parable of the Sower, from 1993, her dystopian setting is characterized by “climate change, economic inequality, and unchecked corporate power” (Warner 10).  These predictions so inspired an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, that students are now designing “survival packs” for an exhibition honoring Butler’s creation of a character who keeps going, no matter what (Rockett 8).

The next book in the series, Parable of the Talents(owned by ECC), takes the character Lauren into her adult life and that of her daughter, to face a government that persecutes religious and ethnic minorities in the name of “making America great again.”  Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Prefer your dystopias less realistic?  Check out ECC’s copy of Butler’s Wild Seed:  Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Or how about vampires?  In Fledgling(on display at ECC), Shori states, “When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.” Shori, the only dark-skinned member of a vampiric race, appears to be a black, ten-year-old human girl, but in fact she’s a 50-something Ina woman. (Cox, 10 Octavia Butler Quotes).

The title that is being taught in high schools is Butler’s Kindred, from 1976.  In this time-shifting narrative, a modern woman is wrenched back in time to save the slave-owner who will father her own great-grandmother.

References: Cox, Carolyn. “10 Octavia Butler Quotes to Live By.” The Portalist, 22 Jun 2017,

Rockett, Darcel. “A showcase of ‘visionary muscles’: Octavia Butler book inspires exhibit from SAIC students.” Chicago Tribune, 23 Dec 2018. Life + Style, pp. 8-9.

Warner, John. “Worried about climate change?: 2 Octavia Butler books written in the 1990s seem prescient today.” Chicago Tribune, 21 Oct 2018. Life + Style, p. 10.

*All covers courtesy of

–Written by Mary Spevacek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

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