Power and Rainbows – Octavia Butler

Sometimes the lack of something in a young person’s life, or concentrated and continuous reception of pain, would form a hyper-creative mind.

I was reading over a transcript I had printed out on a forum with author Octavia Butler as the guest. It was in 2001 where the moderator/host was Ben Trumble for SCIFI. It was a promotional tour mainly for the novel Kindred which had been adapted into a four-part audiodrama miniseries for SCIFI.COM.

During the discussion, Octavia was asked the question about power…

QUESTION: “Ms. Butler, many of your novels deal with power relations: the gifted vs the normal, the time-traveler who knows vs. the manipulator. What about power interest you so much as a writer and human being?”

BUTLER’S ANSWER: “I don’t feel that Dana has power in Kindred, and only a little knowledge. Power is what she needs. Power does interest me. I grew up feeling so powerless, not only because I was Black and female, but because I was so shy. I wrote about power so I could understand it. It still interests me in the way that people use it. It’s such a part of being human.”

At those times where someone lacks power, the natural deepening of creativity explodes.

During the SCIFI discussion, Octavia states: “I used to live next to my landlady and I told everybody she inspired me. And you don’t need imagination because everybody has it. We carry it from childhood. And forget about talent. If you have it, wonderful. If you don’t…read a few best sellers and see who else doesn’t have it, then get to work.”

She stated that she began writing Science Fiction before she began reading it, or at least recognizing it.

And even after finally getting published, she still had to deal with a complete disregard when it came to her creative art.

First Cover Newest Cover Trilogy Cover

QUESTION: “I recently had a chance to see an earlier print of Dawn and on the cover was a Caucasian woman pretending to be Lilith. What were your reactions when you first saw that cover?”

BUTLER’S ANSWER: “Well, my reaction was the same as when I first saw any of my early covers. Writers have no control over that. Well, maybe Stephen King. It’s the luck of the draw and sometimes there is no luck. I think it was the marketing ideas of the time. Black people don’t read SF. Blacks on the cover don’t sell books. As my books sold more, that changed. I literally outlived the adversity. I have editors now who actually care what I think. My early editors frankly didn’t. They’d send a cover and say, “Isn’t it beautiful!” If I thought it wasn’t, that didn’t matter. They would explain to me why I was wrong.”

Octavia stated she received the audio script of Kindred as a finished product. She didn’t get a chance to view it before it went into production. She stated in the discussion that the audio told a different story than the one she was telling, but (she added as a positive note) it did what it did in a very interesting way. She also added another positive statement that she liked the way the slave narratives were handled.

When I read those two positive statements from Octavia about the audiodrama, I still could hear the disappointment, and perhaps even the anger, of these people who took it upon themselves to take her creative art and do what they wanted, only to tell her: “It’s All done! Look! You should be thankful!”

Today, though, one’s inspired creativity from the darkness of childhood experiences, can be shared to everyone exactly how the author intended it to be. Self-publishing allows just that. It takes time to see those beautiful lights of the rainbow especially right before the dark scenes of life. And I’m so glad that today has the true freedom of expression–the way that it was intended.

Authors, like Octavia, helped to pave that way, with their silent acceptance of what they couldn’t change, but bursting their light through in places where they could.

Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006)

As most know, every story that has ever been written has already been written. While I wrote in my young age, I never came across any stories similar to mine, until I picked up Octavia Butler’s book. I had no idea she was a Black author because of the cover, and a few years later, I picked up another book in the library, and started reading, and yes, I had already read it. It was Dawn, and I had now the Trilogy, and the excitement, to read the next few books of this story. That was in the early 1990s, during my college years. I had hoped one day that I would have the honor to someday sit down and speak to the wonderful author who wrote so similar to my own thoughts and imagination, but unfortunately, it would now never be.

Today, I can only continue my version of story telling in the similar steps as her own. And I’m happy to be able to do just that.

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