At the Huntington, see the inspirational note black sci-fi writer Octavia Butler wrote to herself


Octavia E. Butler was a powerful and pioneering voice in science-fiction. The first black woman acclaimed as a master of the genre, she was known for vivid, expertly crafted tales that upended conventional ideas about race, gender and humanity.

Although her creations were bold, Butler, who grew up poor in Pasadena, was “a private, reflective person who struggled with shyness and self-doubt,” said Natalie Russell, curator of a new exhibition at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

How such struggles influenced her life and art is one of the themes explored in “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories.” Russell said the show uses an invaluable resource — the author’s archive — to examine both her published work and “who she was as told through her personal papers.”

Octavia Butler is pictured in 2004 near some of her novels at a store in Seattle. (Joshua Trujillo / Associated Press)
(JOSHUA TRUJILLO / Associated Press)

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Butler, who died at 58 in 2006, willed the Huntington 354 boxes of materials, a bequest Russell describes as “huge and unedited because Octavia kept everything and passed away unexpectedly after a fall.”

She said the exhibition, which runs through Aug. 7, presents about 100 items, including manuscripts, photographs and notebooks filled with writing and self-motivational notes, including one that reads in part, “My novels go onto the bestseller lists. … So be it! See to it!”

Butler started writing science-fiction as a child. She spent years working to establish her career — and a new vision of what’s possible in a genre dominated by white men. Along the way, Russell said, she needed reassurance and reinforcement.

A full view of Butler's inspirational message to herself on the back of a notebook. (Estate of Octavia E. Butler)
(c Estate of Octavia E. Butler)

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