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Butler (Octavia E.) Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Cataloger's Notes
  • Processing Information
  • General
  • Related Materials
  • Other Finding Aids
  • Arrangement

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
    Title: Octavia E. Butler papers
    Creator: Butler, Octavia E.
    Identifier/Call Number: mssOEB
    Physical Description: 302 Linear Feet (398 boxes, 18 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1933-2006
    Date (bulk): 1958-2006
    Abstract: This collection includes the extensive manuscripts, correspondence, and working materials of American science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006).
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for use by qualified researchers and by appointment. Please contact Reader Services at the Huntington Library for more information.
    Three items have been restricted for privacy concerns as below.
    OEB 5370 SEALED UNTIL Dec. 31, 2042
    OEB 5374 SEALED UNTIL Dec. 31. 2063
    OEB 5660 SEALED UNTIL Dec. 31, 2043
    OEB 8714 SEALED UNTIL Dec. 31, 2043

    Conditions Governing Use

    The literary copyright of materials by Octavia E. Butler is held by the Estate of Octavia E. Butler. Anyone wishing to quote from or publish any manuscript material by Octavia E. Butler must contact: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House, 21 West 26th St., New York City, NY 10010, mheifetz@writershouse.com, (212) 685-2605
    The copyright for materials by others represented in the collection is held by other parties. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine the current copyright holder and obtain permission from the appropriate parties.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Octavia E. Butler papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Bequest of Octavia E. Butler, August 2008 (Boxes 1-354, 387-392, oversize folders 1-18) and July 2017 (Boxes 355-386, folder 37 of box 353, 3 volumes).

    Biographical / Historical

    Octavia Estelle Butler (1947-2006) was an American science fiction writer, and the first black woman in her field. She was born and raised in Pasadena, California by her mother, Octavia M. Butler, a maid. Her father Laurice, a shoeshiner, died when she was a baby. When she was young she was known as Estelle, or Junie (short for Junior), to differentiate herself from her mother. Later, though she used Octavia, she was adamant about including her middle initial in published settings.
    A shy, only child, Octavia began writing at 10, and turned to science fiction by 12. She often cited Devil Girl from Mars, a movie she saw on television, as her inspiration: "I thought, I can write a better story than that." (1) Despite being told repeatedly by family and friends that writing science fiction was not a career for a black person Octavia pursued creative writing courses at Pasadena City College, and won a student short story writing contest in 1966. She graduated with an Associate's degree and went on to California State University, Los Angeles, where she studied a variety of subjects, but never completed a degree.
    In 1969 Octavia was admitted to the Screen Writers' Guild Open Door program where she caught the attention of Harlan Ellison. Ellison encouraged Octavia to attend the Clarion Writers' Workshop in science fiction and fantasy at Clarion State College in Pennsylvania, which she did in the summer of 1970. There she published her first story, "Crossover," in Clarion, an anthology of student works. She also sold her short story "Childfinder" to Harlan Ellison, to be part of the now infamously unpublished Last Dangerous Visions anthology.
    For the next five years Octavia wrote and supported herself with menial jobs, but did not sell any of her writing. Finally, in 1976, Doubleday published Octavia's first novel, Patternmaster, followed shortly by Mind of my Mind (1977) and Survivor (1978). These three are the first of five related novels known as Butler's Patternist series, based on her earliest childhood science fiction. Her best known work, Kindred, appeared in 1979, and has become a standard in many high school and college curricula.
    As Octavia gained popularity she began to attend and speak at science fiction conventions and at conferences. Though still incredibly shy she challenged herself to public speaking and appeared at many colleges and events. In the late 1980s she published her Xenogenesis trilogy, and then in the 1990s published Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. In 1995, Octavia became the first science fiction writer to receive a prestigious MacArthur "Genius" grant. Her last novel, Fledgling, was published in 2005. In all, Octavia published 12 novels and one volume of short works. She received 2 Hugos and 2 Nebulas.
    In 2000 Octavia moved to Lake Forest Park, Washington, fulfilling a longtime dream of living in the Northwest. She passed away suddenly after a fall outside her home in 2006, probably from a stroke or related head trauma, at the age of 58.
    (1) McCaffrey, L. and McMenamin, J. (1988). An Interview with Octavia Butler. In C. Francis (Ed.), Conversations with Octavia Butler (p. 10-26). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection includes the extensive manuscripts, correspondence, and working materials of American science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006). The collection consists of five series: Manuscripts, Correspondence, Photographs, Subject Files and Research Materials, and Ephemera. There are 392 boxes and 18 oversize folders.
    Manuscripts are subdivided into manuscripts by Octavia E. Butler, notecards, diaries, commonplace books, and manuscripts by others. They are arranged alphabetically by author, then title or chronologically within each subseries. Manuscripts by Octavia E. Butler include drafts of all her published works, as well as numerous drafts of complete and partial short stories, one unpublished novel, Blindsight, and several partial drafts of unfinished novels, including Parable of the Trickster. There are also essays and speeches and notes on various research, writing, and domestic subjects. The notecards include both working notes and research notes, as well as notes used for speaking engagaments. The commonplace books are a particularly rich subseries where Octavia compiled working notes for novels and short stories, research, journal entries, notes on daily life and activities, and more. Very little of the contents of the commonplace books are indexed. Manuscripts by others include working copies of short stories from the Clarion workshop of 1970, pre-publication novels, and other short stories, plays, and essays.
    Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by the author's last name, then chronologically. Notable correspondents include Harlan Ellison, Robin Scott Wilson, Toni Cade Bambara, Vonda N. McIntyre, Greg Bear, Suzy McKee Charnas, Tananrive Due, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Important personal correspondents include Marjorie Rae Nadler, Leslie Howle, Lynn Marron, Sandra Y. Govan, Frances Deutsch Louis, and Victoria Rose. In particular correspondence to and from Victoria Rose, Marjorie Rae Nadler, and Lynn Marron offers insight into Octavia life and writing early in her career. Octavia's correspondence with her agent at Writer's House, Inc. and her publishers, including Doubleday and Company, inc, Seven Stories Press, Warner Books, St. Martin's Press, and Four Wall Eight Windows, often contains great detail about works in progress and marketing decisions.
    Photographs are arranged chronologically in several groups: loose photos (small), loose photos (large), album pages, and photo album. Highlights include photographs from conventions, speaking engagements, and or book signings, numerous photographs of Ocatvia's trip to Peru and the Amazon as part of her research for her Xenogenesis trilogy, and photographs from travels in the Southern California desert and north coast, and Washington.
    The subject files represent Octavia's arrangement of clippings by topic. Subject headings are taken from the envelopes Octavia used for filing in most cases, and the arrangement largely follows a numbering scheme devised by Octavia. The original envelopes are included in each folder when present. The research materials are other clippings and subject materials that have been arranged by the cataloger, using Octavia's schema where possible. Together the subject files and research materials are a compendium of topics of interest to Octavia, largely scientific, medical, and anthropological in nature.
    The ephemera are arranged in 19 subseries, alphabetically. Notable subseries include Awards, Organizations: MacArthur Foundation, Organizations: Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), Publicity and Production, Schools (which includes a variety of juvenilia), Speaking Engagements, and Travel.
    In addition there are oversize materials, housed separately, for all the above series. Researchers should be sure to search the oversize series for additional materials.
    Boxes 355-386 and folder 37 of box 353 were added to the collection in 2019. This material has been incorporated into the arrangement of the finding aid and is listed by box, usually at the end of the appropriate series.

    Cataloger's Notes

    1) Several of the works in this collection have multiple titles. All materials are catalogued by the published, or latest version of the title, where known. There are also a number of incomplete works. Below is a list of variant titles.

    Variant titles

    1. Published/ Final Title [Former Title(s)]
    2. Dawn [The Training Floor; Lilith]
    3. Imago
    4. Adulthood Rites
    5. Mind of my Mind [Psychogenesis; Prepattern]
    6. Patternmaster [Bondage; The Reign of Mind; Midpattern; Birthright]
    7. Wild Seed
    8. Clay's Ark [Manna]
    9. Survivor [Canaan; Alanna]
    10. Fledgling [Memory, Flesh, Bone, Blood; Blood, Flesh, Bone, Memory; Scars; Darkling; Dark Light; Blood Groups; Fireweed]
    11. Kindred [To Keep Thee in All Thy Ways; Dana; Guardian; Canaan (early variant of Kindred that also may have been related to Patternist series)]
    12. Parable of the Sower [Justice; Judgment; Godshaper; God of Clay; Girasol; Olamina]
    13. Parable of the Talents
    14. Blindsight [Mindsight; Leavings; The Eternal Flesh]
    15. Earthseed: The Books of the Living [Earthseed: The First Book of the Living]

    Working titles of partial manuscripts

    1. Parable of the Trickster [Trickster, Teacher]
    2. Spiritus [O My Soul; Bodhisattva]
    3. Asylum (sequel to Fledgling) [ Flight]
    4. Eden
    5. God of Clay (variant of Parable of the Sower/ Parable of the Trickster)
    6. Fire, Laughter, Emeralds, Rain: a Thesaurus of First Names
    7. Paraclete [Revelation]
    8. Mortal Words
    Octavia's earliest science fiction ideas ultimately became her Patternist stories. Notes and fragments for these early Patternist writings have been catalogued in most cases with the novel to which they most closely relate. For example, where Mary and the city of Forsythe are present, the materials have been catalogued as Mind of my Mind.
    Many early fragments of the various Parable books are difficult to distinguish, especially those written before Parable of the Sower was completed and published. Butler used many ideas and characters, some of which began as part of Parable of the Sower and were later used in one of the later two manuscripts. "God of Clay" in particular seems to be a very early version of Parable of the Sower that has many elements closer to the later direction of the unfinished Parable of the Trickster. Where possible the cataloger has catalogued the manuscripts according to the completed (or latest, in the case of Trickster) version of the story. Some manuscripts are catalogued as God of Clay, with added entries for other relevant Parable books.
    Earthseed: The Books of the Living is an unpublished manuscript of the fictional book of sayings and religious dictums in Butler's Earthseed series (Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents and the unfinished Parable of the Trickster). Butler has culled and collected the sayings used in her two published works from this series, along with others, to form a "thought-provoking" stand-alone monograph.
    2) It is often difficult to determine whether a manuscript is a typewritten original or a carbon copy. Butler often used lined paper to make carbon copies, so this affords some clue but is not always definitive. Sometimes manuscripts on lined paper seem to be typewritten originals. The cataloger has attempted to identify originals and carbon copies to the best extent possible, but recognizes that some manuscripts may be misidentified. Further, where typewritten originals and carbon copies are mixed together, as in numerous notes and fragments, the cataloger has often chosen to identify the pages simply as MS. (typewritten).
    3) Octavia often grouped notes from disparate things together, labeling them only by one main element. Thus, notes for various novels, as well as apparent journal-like entries, and notes on writing and Octavia's writing in general can be found interspersed throughout the notes in the collection. The cataloger has attempted to include added entries to bring out these additional subjects wherever possible, but due to the expansive nature of Octavia's intermingling not everything is identified. In other cases, dated manuscripts have been catalogued as Journal pages, with added entries for novels where appropriate.
    4) Similarly, Octavia frequently reused paper by writing notes or typing on the verso of a page. These items are frequently catalogued in their repurposed form, but notes and drafts of manuscripts and letters, often not easily identifiable, may be found on the versos. Again the cataloger has attempted to include added entries to bring out these additional subjects wherever possible, but due to the extent of these additional notes and fragments, many are not indexed in any fashion. Autograph notes on the verso of typewritten pages are included in the page count. See the Other Finding Aids note for a list of the added entries for manuscripts fragments found within other manuscripts.
    5) Butler often reused and repurposed envelopes to organize her manuscripts, in addition to keeping materials in envelopes in which they had been mailed. Where the relationship of the manuscript and the envelope is uncertain, and no other date for the manuscript is available, the postmark of the envelope has been used as a questionable date.
    6) Butler used multiple organizational systems at different times. Sometimes the system has been kept intact, other times evidence of the system has been kept while reorganizing individual items to make the collection accessible and easy to use. Items separated will be labeled "Formerly enclosed in. . ."
    7) Contracts and royalty statements may be found in two places: the ephemera series and the correspondence series. Contracts with a cover letter have been kept in correspondence; loose contracts are in ephemera.
    8) Researchers should be sure to check the oversize series for additional materials, particularly in the Subject Files and Research Materials, and Ephemera series.

    Processing Information

    From 2009-2013, Natatlie Russell processed the original acquisition, boxes 1-354, and created the finding aid.
    In 2019, Russell processed the 2017 addition to the collection. This material is now housed in boxes 355-386, folder 37 in box 353, and also includes three bound volumes: Cullen, Thomas S. Early Medicine in Maryland (1927); Carols of Joy (1955?); and Butler, Octavia E. Wild Seed (2001). The additional material is listed in the finding aid by box, usually at the end of the appropriate series. Gina Giang completed data entry and Maggie Hughes updated the finding aid in November 2019. In March and April 2023, Maggie Hughes placed some previously un-boxed material into boxes and shifted some materials, creating box numbers 387-398.


    Individual call numbers included in the collection: mssOEB 1-9062.

    Related Materials

    1. Octavia E. Butler correspondence and photographs   (Call number: mssHM 80612-80709, FAC 2107)

    Other Finding Aids

    A list of the added entries for manuscripts fragments found within other manuscripts is attached here as a PDF: Index of Manuscript Fragments  . See the Cataloger's Notes for more information.


    Organized in 5 major series, plus oversize materials:
    1. Manuscripts (Boxes 1-201, 355-361, 387, 393-398)
    2. Correspondence (Boxes 202-264, 362-375)
    3. Photographs (Boxes 265-272)
    4. Subject Files (Boxes 273-290, 376) and Research Materials (Boxes 291-297, 376)
    5. Ephemera (Boxes 298-342, 377-385, 392)
    6. Oversize (Boxes 343-345, 386)
    7. Extra Oversize (Boxes 346-353)
    8. Empty Binders (Box 354)
    9. Broadsides (Oversize folders 1-18)
    10. Bound volumes (Boxes 388-391)
    Items arranged primarily in alphabetical order by last name.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Science fiction, American -- Women authors
    Women authors, American -- 20th century -- Archives
    African American women authors -- 20th century -- Archives
    Letters (correspondence) -- United States -- 20th century
    Manuscripts for publication -- United States -- 20th century
    Butler, Octavia E.