Every once in a while a writer comes along and changes what we believe is possible. These writers challenge our understanding of the world and touch parts of us that we didn’t know were there. The late science-fiction legend Octavia Butler is one of those authors.
Born in the summer of 1947, Octavia E. Butler changed the face of science fiction — and it all started with a childhood trip to the movies. After watching Devil Girl From Mars (1954), young Octavia was convinced that she could write something better, and, from that moment, her journey as a writer began.
Octavia Butler and Her Classic Works
The Pasadena, California native was a deeply shy child who found solace in disappearing into language and stories. She spent much of her time as a young person in the library, devouring books and dreaming of being an author. Though she didn’t have any examples of Black women in science fiction, that didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion. Octavia Butler forged ahead — she held odd jobs, joined writing workshops and explored new characters and storylines. In 1976 she published her first novel — and the last chronologically in the Patternist series — Patternmaster.
Beyond expanding the Patternist series, Butler penned classics, including The Parable of the Sower. In addition to the Parable novels, she wrote stand-alone books and short stories, too. She’s perhaps best known for her novel Kindred, in which Dana, a time-traveling writer, confronts the realities of being an enslaved person in early 19th-century Maryland. Butler’s signature style blends the hallmarks of sci-fi stories with sharp social commentary, inviting readers to interrogate the constructs in their everyday lives.
In 2005, Octavia Butler published her final novel, Fledgling, and passed away the following year. Undoubtedly, she left behind an incredible legacy that has forever altered the science fiction genre. When she began her career, she was surrounded by white men — but, thanks in large part to Butler, the face of science fiction has changed. Today, more and more Black science fiction writers are emerging as a result of Octavia Butler’s singular influence.
Here, we’re honoring not only Octavia Butler’s direct contributions to the literary world but the new generation of Black science fiction writers that she inspired. Here, we’re highlighting five Black sci-fi writers with must-read books who are carrying that torch and expanding the genre.
5 Black Sci-Fi Writers Who Were Inspired by Octavia Butler
Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Tomi Champion-Adeyemi is best known for her fantasy novel, Children of Blood and Bone, in which her young protagonist goes on an epic journey to reconnect with ancestral magic.
As an adult, Champion-Adeyemi connected more deeply with her Nigerian heritage and is now committed to highlighting the richness of her culture. This novel is the first book in the Legacy of Orisha series which also includes Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Adeyemi is not only an incredible author but also a writing coach, who is passionate about facilitating growth in the next generation of writers.
Jelani Wilson (the Self-Proclaimed Octavia Butler “Super Fan”)
What do you get when you marry hip hop, sci-fi and a commitment to social justice? The answer is an incredible fiction writer and Octavia’s Brood contributor, Jelani Wilson. As a self-described Octavia Butler “super fan”, Wilson was excited to participate in the collection of social justice-focused science fiction, Octavia’s Brood.
An educator who was raised on sci-fi and comic books, Wilson’s contribution to Octavia’s Brood, 22XX: One Shot, was written with his students in mind. In an interview with Friction, Wilson shared that he “wanted them to see themselves in the future and to understand that even what seem like smallish acts of rebellion in the face of tyranny and injustice are important.” Clearly, he’s a writer who’s primarily interested in expanding imaginations in a way that can affect real-world change — and Wilson’s unique perspective is making waves on and off the page.
Humans living in the future fight to rebuild civilizations and prepare to withstand disaster in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. She has been heralded by The New York Times as “the most celebrated science fiction and fantasy writer of her generation”. Considering her impressive collection of awards and spellbinding fiction, it’s easy to see why.
Jemisin has won multiple Hugo awards, a MacArthur grant, a Locus Award and more, but her impact extends far beyond her accolades. From her debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to the development of a Broken Earth trilogy film, Jemisin has changed the landscape of the sci-fi genre and is positioned to continue doing so.
Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor captures the imaginations of children and adults alike with her otherworldly fiction. Okorafor hails from Cincinnati and defines her work as “Africanfuturism”. She has written for comic series like Black Panther but you may also know her thanks to her widely acclaimed novels, including Akata Woman, Noor and Binti.
Since her work is heavily influenced by the perspective that her “Naijamerican” identity provides, Okorafor purposefully highlights Nigeria and Black girlhood in her writing. Okorafor tackles subjects like racism, environmental issues and corruption — all while exploring magic and mystery.
Goliath author Tochi Onyebuchi also writes for young audiences and released his first book geared toward adults in 2020 with Riot Baby. Since then, the former civil rights lawyer has continued to captivate audiences with writing that spans from his newly released novel Goliath to comics and beyond.
Wilson has been praised for the way his work navigates issues of race, but he doesn’t shy away from the challenges that inform his writing. When asked about writing about race in the United States, Onyebuchi candidly stated, “To have to breathe it, to take the clay of it and have to build the castle of a compelling narrative out of it. It’s despair, so much despair. It’s an impossible place to live in. And yet, that is what writers of color — what Black writers — are so often asked to do.”
Onyebuchi’s authenticity and magnificent talent have just begun to impact the realm of science fiction; it’s already clear that this writer is a dynamic force.
Of course, those are just a few of the brilliant Black writers defining contemporary sci-fi and shaping its future. Each of them brings a new understanding of their unique place in the world to the fantastic worlds that they create. Moreover, this is just a glimpse at the writers who are following in the wake of Octavia Butler’s marvelous legacy. Collectively, they are a reminder to the next generation of Black science fiction writers that they belong — and that their perspectives matter, too.