Lessons From Acclaimed Writer Octavia Butler on Change, Persistence, War, Racism, and Rage

Lessons From Acclaimed Writer Octavia Butler on Change, Persistence, War, Racism, and Rage

October 16, 2013 


by Yvette Carnell

Editor, Your Black World and BreakingBrown.com

The science fiction writer isn’t just a writer, certainly not in the traditional sense. She’s also a futurist because the genre demands it. Perhaps because she seamlessly blended race with precise portrayals of the tribulations of mankind, Octavia Butler became a world renowned science fiction writer. Butler said to the Los Angeles Times before her passing, “I’m black, I’m solitary, I’ve always been an outsider.” And the gritty choices Butler’s characters have thrust upon them continually highlight an ever present theme in the writer’s work–change.According to Butler, so much of life depends on how you manage and adapt to a wildly alive world.

Her novels included such works “Parable of the Sower” (1993); “Parable of the Talents” (1998) “Fledgling”, and Wildseed. Unlike most science-fiction novels, the main protagonist in Butler’s novels are often black women,  who Butler infuses with strong will, and humanizes in ways not oftenOctavia Butler_1998_Parable Of The Talents seen in any genre, let alone science-fiction. Butler brought what it meant to be African-American–gritty resolve and persistence-to science fiction. It is for that brilliance which she will be remembered. Below are some of Butler’s most poignant life lessons.

On persistence:

“Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all. (Parable of the Talents)”

On realizing you’re all alone in the universe:

“Once you grow past Mommy and Daddy coming running when you’re hurt, you’re really on your own. You’re alone, and there’s no one to help you.”

On passion:

“If you want a thing–truly want it, want it so badly that you need it as you need air to breathe, then unless you die, you will have it. Why not? It has you. There is no escape. What a cruel and terrible thing escape would be if escape were possible” (Parable of the Talents)

On quiet racism, and quiet versus open rebellion:

“‘Don’t argue with white folks,’ [Luke] had said. ‘Don’t tell them ‘no.’ Don’t let them see you mad. Just say ‘yes, sir.’ Then go ’head and do what you want to do. Might have to take a whippin’ for it later on, but if you want it bad enough, the whippin’ won’t matter much.” (Kindred)

On managing your anger:

“When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing” – (Fledgling) 

On the inevitability of change:

“Change is the one unavoidable, irresistible, ongoing reality of the universe. To us, that makes it the most octavia_butlerpowerful reality, and just another word for God.”

Earthseed: The Books of the Living

On the importance of good habits:

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

On selecting your leaders:

“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.” (Parable of the Talents)

On craven self-interest:

“Beware At war Or at peace, More people die Of unenlightened self-interest Than of any other disease” (Parable of the Talents)

yvette carnell



Yvette Carnell writes mostly about politics, social, and cultural issues for my personal blog, BreakingBrown.com as well as BreakingBrown.tv and Breakingbrown.me. She is also an editor for YourBlackWorld and a managing contributor on KuluteKritic.

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