Octavia Butler and I

Melanie joins us today writing on the way Octavia Butler has influenced her own creative life. Melanie is a New England Born blogger, Speculative Fiction writer, and Mixed Lesbian who often includes LGBT and Black themes in her work and blog. You can find her at Eclectic Little Dork  . All writing in this post is the opinion and creative talents of Melanie.

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I’ve been an avid reader ever since I learned to read as a young girl. I’ve devoured books with large page counts in a single day, only getting up to eat and use the bathroom because I was so caught up in what I was reading. And in my reading travels, I discovered everything from the classics like Jane Austen and H.G. Wells to modern writers such as Julie Anne Peters, Nnedi Okorafor, and The Grand Dame of Science Fiction, Octavia E. Butler.

I’ve also devoured a lot of different poetry during my reading travels, including Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Tupac Shakur (Yes, he was both a poet and a fairly controversial rapper during his life. And yes his work is very, very good. I suggest finding some if you can.), Emily Dickinson, and many others.

All of this while trying to find being Black means to me as a Mixed/Black woman and as a woman on the LGBT+ spectrum of romantic and sexual orientation. And, since around the age of 12 or 13, what that meant for my desire to be a writer.

Of these many influences, the most important in my eyes is the Grand Dame of Science Fiction and award-winning author, Octavia Butler (1947-2006).

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Butler wrote about racism and what it meant to be Black, had an interestingly almost most terse style that was still highly descriptive and evocative, and some of her work is even considered Literary Fiction in some crowds rather than Science Fiction. I won’t go into the last thing except to say that I feel ignoring her work as Science Fiction misses the point, and serves to limit fiction written by Black people instead of allowing what we write, no matter our nationality, to reflect the diversity allowed in work by writers who aren’t considered POC (People of Color or those who are not white.). If anything, I would categorise her writing as Literary Science Fiction, because it fosters that connection between the Literary Fiction and what her work was and is sold as mostly, Science Fiction.

I’ve read, was, and continue to be influenced by many writers. But reading Butler at 24, I’m now coming up on my 26th birthday this month, was a sort of revelation. Within reading the first book I ever read by her, Dawn, the first in her Lilith’s Brood or Xenogenesis novels, I learned the following:

  • Science Fiction writers can have very to the point writing, choosing each word to build the overall picture and help the reader see what the writer is trying to get across.
  • The story is the most important thing. Especially dealing with something that matters to you, like being Black and LGBT in my case, in order to get readers on board with your work.
  • Writing about what matters to you is how to make dealing with tough issues, and things like writing concise and evocative prose easier to write.

All or some of these may seem obvious, but a lot of societies, especially society in the US, is often straight and when not focused on straight people, white Christian focused to the point that many budding writers have trouble writing about people like them. That may be Black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, LGBT+, disabled or not, or any combination of those things. Because what we see is White characters as the norm unless the writer mentions otherwise, and sometimes even when the writer does say otherwise. Look up the issues people had with Rue in the Hunger Games movies despite her descriptions in the book series.

And while I certainly knew that I wanted to focus on Black LGBT+ characters in my own work, maybe adding other POC characters as main characters later on. How much I not only wanted but needed to do that in order for my writing to flourish the way I wanted my writing to flourish hadn’t quite clicked yet. I had finished or made progress on a lot of fairly smaller projects, including a Gothic Horror novel that featured an interracial Lesbian relationship in the early 20th century; a Fantasy story featuring a lesbian relationship; and a modern Horror story featuring an interracial/interspecies lesbian relationship between a demon who looked white and a Black woman. All of which were among my favourites.

But still, something had been missing until I read that novel, and later, the entire series. I had been writing the characters that mattered to me and about things that mattered to me but hadn’t quite dedicated myself to including characters like that in every story I wrote. Odd though it is, you could say that Octavia Butler and the novel Dawn opened my eyes to how important that is for me as a writer. Cementing in my mind that I, like any good writer hope to reach a wide audience, but ultimately had to write for myself as a Black woman and as an LGBT+ woman. And to a smaller extent, felt and still feel a desire to help people see that living at the intersection of two or more identities is not only normal but makes for interesting stories.

If you would like to support Melanie’s writing please head to her  blog and read her posts. I often talk about race and/or orientation in one form or another. I also Tweet about writing and Bullet Journals and have an Instagram account where I post mainly Bullet JournalⓇ related pictures.

 

If you are interested in contributing during Black History Month please contact me meghan.liddy1@gmail.com

 

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