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Book Club: Octavia E. Butler’s Pasadena and a book giveaway

Today's black speculative fiction authors include Octavia Butler, Rivers Solomon and N.K. Jemisin.
Book club giveaway: Top row (from left): “Parable of the Sower,” “Parable of the Talents,” “Wild Seed,” “Kindred” and “Fledgling.” Bottom row (from left): “Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction,” “Binti: The Complete Trilogy,” “An Unkindness of Ghosts,” “Pet” and “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?”
(Grand Central Publishing, Beacon Press, Aspect, DAW, Akashic Books, Make Me A World, Orbit)

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

Growing up in Pasadena, science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler rode the bus everywhere and constantly scribbled ideas about distant worlds and her desire to be a writer in dime-store notebooks, diaries and envelope backs.

“Octavia E. Butler never asked to be here, may not have picked it if she had had the druthers, but she made do. Pasadena. Crown of the Valley. Earth,” writes journalist Lynell George in a new book exploring the author’s early life and writing influences.

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After working as a telemarketer, potato chip inspector and dishwasher, Butler went on to a groundbreaking writing career, publishing 12 novels and several short-story collections. She earned two Nebula and two Hugo awards and became the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “genius” grant.

On Wednesday, George, author of “A Handful of Dirt, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler,” and metro reporter Julia Wick, author of our Essential California newsletter, will join the Los Angeles Times Book Club to discuss Butler’s work and her enduring legacy.

Butler’s 1993 “Parable of the Sower” envisioned a Los Angeles ravaged by climate change and economic injustice where people are scraping by just to survive. The author died in 2006 but her novel has surged in popularity in recent months. “Parable of the Sower” landed on both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times bestseller lists this fall.

Two other Butler novels, “Wild Seed” and “Dawn,” are in development for TV series.

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Lynell George is the author of "A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler."
(Noé Montes / Angel City Press)

Book giveaway


The book club meetup begins at 7 p.m. PT on Nov. 18 and will be livestreamed on the L.A. Times’ Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter. Sign up at Eventbrite for a reminder and direct links. This event is free.

This month, we’re doing our first book club giveaway. When you register for this event, you can receive a free copy of one of 10 books written by Butler or another sci-fi great — thanks to a generous donation from the author’s estate.

The books will be shipped to book club readers on a first-come, first-served basis from Vroman’s Bookstore.

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“Vroman’s was Octavia’s local bookstore for most of her life, and to show gratitude for the important service they perform in the L.A. community, the Estate of Octavia E. Butler and longtime literary agent Merrilee Heifetz are funding the purchase of these 700 books to be given away,” said Ernestine Walker, Butler’s cousin.

“By choosing all novels by Black writers of imaginative fiction, many of whom honor Octavia for paving the way, we also hope to thank her readers by offering them free copies of five of her books as well. We are also grateful to the L.A. Times for all they’ve done to create and support this wonderful event.”

The giveaway list features five of Butler’s books, “Kindred,” “Parable of the Sower,” “Parable of the Talents,” “Wild Seed” and “Fledgling.” It also includes “Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction From the African Diaspora,” edited by Sheree R. Thomas; “Binti: The Complete Trilogy” by Nnedi Okorafor; “An Unkindness of Ghosts” by Rivers Solomon; “Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi; and “How Long ’Til Black Future Month?” by N.K. Jemisin.

Octavia E. Butler grew up in Pasadena
Octavia E. Butler grew up in Pasadena
(JOSHUA TRUJILLO / Associated Press)
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This past month book clubbers have been reading and sharing Octavia Butler stories.

Many readers have a favorite. Mine is probably “Parable of the Sower”; I’m captivated by her dystopian L.A. of the 2020s, though I’m still working my way through her novels.

My colleague Tracy Brown is a fan of “Dawn,” the first book from the Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood series. “It’s a bit more hard sci-fi than some of her other works, but it was the first novel of hers I read and remains a favorite, as it deals with so many themes through the lens of alien/human relations,” Tracy says. “The series also touches on humanity’s destructive impulses, which feels a bit relevant to now.”

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Book club reader Mayor Cooley agrees: “I recently finished ‘Dawn,’ so I’d have to say it’s my favorite. The idea of sort of a retelling of the Eve and Mitochondrial Eve origin stories complete with a Black woman is irresistible.”

Tracy adds that the first work she read by Butler was “Bloodchild” and says the short-story collection is a good gateway to her other works.

Several other readers shared their love of “Kindred,” one of Butler’s standalone novels. “It blew my mind in the best possible way,” says Anna Elves in the book club’s Facebook group.

Teacher Lisa Vasquez says she’s been sharing “Kindred” with her students since 1995. “Butler deploys a classic sci-fi trope of time travel to educate her readers about some of the horrors of slavery,” she says.

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But the author of “A Handful of Dirt” has trouble picking her favorite after spending so much time immersed in the Butler archive at the Huntington Library.

George’s new book includes the author’s handwritten notes and lists, comments from early teachers and carefully documented details of her struggles to build a life as a writer. Butler wrote: “The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was my own fear and self doubt.”

During interviews and conferences, people often asked Butler: What does science fiction mean to you?

“She answered it in many ways over the years,” George writes in this excerpt from her book. “Science fiction allowed her to reach for something beyond what she could visualize. Reading through a draft of a speech Octavia was puzzling out, I was struck by a particular answer. Science fiction is … a handful of earth and a handful of sky and everything around and in between.”

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What questions do you have for our book club guests? Email us ahead of Wednesday’s meetup at bookclub@latimes.com.

Handwritten notes on the inside cover of one of Octavia E. Butler's commonplace books, 1988.
Handwritten notes on the inside cover of one of Octavia E. Butler’s commonplace books, 1988.
(© Estate of Octavia E. Butler)


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