Octavia Butler note to self

Friday Feminist Fuck Yeah: Octavia Butler’s Ambitious Manifesto

As if I could love Octavia Butler any more. 

The trailblazing science fiction writer, a Black woman in a white male dominated genre, who explored issues of race, gender, and power in beautifully imaginative and captivating works, died a decade ago.

Her notes and personal journals are now housed in the Huntington Library, and last week this wonderful “note to self” made the internet rounds. It was written circa 1988, after the publication of Kindred and the Patternist series (my personal favorite), but before she wrote the Parable novels that solidified her fame. She’d go on to win a MacArthur Genius grant and be inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Octavia Butler note to self

(Image credit: Huntington Blogs)

In a 2000 interview, Butler explained why she was drawn to writing: “You got to make your own worlds. You got to write yourself in. Whether you were a part of the greater society or not, you got to write yourself in. So I wrote myself in.” It’s amazing to see how she did this with her own life — writing it down and willing it into existence. So be it! See to it!

I also love that while many of her goals are altruistic (helping her mother and “poor black youngsters”) and charmingly modest (hiring a car when she needs to), she is unapologetically ambitious. She wants millions of people to read her books. She wants them to be not just good or well-received but best-selling. In a culture in which women writers are expected to adopt a self-deprecating posture and act as though any success they receive is a somewhat surprising and not-at-all-sought-after side effect of their work, it’s thrilling to see Butler owning her desire for fame — if only to herself.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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