Octavia Butler’s parents were married for sixteen years before she was born, and her father died less than four years later. Born in 1947, after her father returned from fighting in World War II, she was a true Baby Boomer, and she was brought up by her mother and grandmother. Her mother was Octavia Margaret, but she named her baby girl Octavia Estelle: Star Child.
Octavia Estelle grew up in Pasadena, so she never experienced segregation, but that did not mean that her school years were happy. Since she was tall, Octavia was placed in third grade when she should have been in kindergarten, and since she was later diagnosed with dyslexia, learning to read was a struggle. She was a slow and dreamy child, the kind with an imaginary world inside her, and even as a young child, she carried around a pink notebook in which she wrote horse stories at first, and then later, science fiction. Although her mother was a very religious woman, Octavia was not, but we can see the biblical influence in many of her themes and in the very names of her books: The Parable of the Sower, The Parable of the Talents.
Ibi Zoboi, the author of this biography, is herself an accomplished writer. Her first novel, American Street, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Zoboi studied Butler’s novels in college, and later had the privilege of meeting her on a couple of occasions before Butler died in 2006. They share a June 22nd birthday. In this volume, Zoboi uses concrete poems, haikus, and other verse structures as well as prose narration to tell the story of this remarkable woman whose works she admired. She was encouraged that they both started writing at a young age, though she was in awe of the fact that Butler had had the courage to submit her stories to publishers when she was about thirteen years old. Zoboi shares photos of the two of them together, and as her schoolteachers said, Octavia is very tall!
Octavia Butler is credited with the creation of the genre called Afrofuturism, a Black subgenre within science fiction. Readers can see photos of the long and focused affirmations she wrote for herself in her own handwriting on lined notebook paper. She was absolutely determined to be a success, and, despite her natural shyness and her shame at being the daughter of a domestic servant, she let nothing stand in the way of publishing her stories, improving her craft each day. She went on to publish the bestselling Kindred and many novels that won the Nebula Award, Hugo Award, and Locus Award, among others, proving that this woman who grew up under Jim Crow, the Cold War, and McCarthyism could break through the stereotypes of her time and look to the future with hope and resolution.
Star Child is a slender volume written on a middle-grade level and is perfect for so many children: those who like to read science fiction, those who are late bloomers, those who scribble in their own tattered notebooks, and every child who needs a role model for breaking the tight bonds of outdated, narrow expectations.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.