Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Biographical / Historical
Scope and Contents
Other Finding Aids
The Huntington Library
Title: Octavia E. Butler papers
Butler, Octavia E.
Identifier/Call Number: mssOEB
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
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, (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.
[Identification of item]. Octavia E. Butler papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino,
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
- Published/ Final Title [Former Title(s)]
- Dawn [The Training Floor; Lilith]
- Adulthood Rites
- Mind of my Mind [Psychogenesis; Prepattern]
- Patternmaster [Bondage; The Reign of Mind; Midpattern; Birthright]
- Wild Seed
- Clay's Ark [Manna]
- Survivor [Canaan; Alanna]
- Fledgling [Memory, Flesh, Bone, Blood; Blood, Flesh, Bone, Memory; Scars; Darkling;
Dark Light; Blood Groups; Fireweed]
- Kindred [To Keep Thee in All Thy Ways; Dana; Guardian; Canaan (early variant of
Kindred that also may have been related to Patternist series)]
- Parable of the Sower [Justice; Judgment; Godshaper; God of Clay; Girasol;
- Parable of the Talents
- Blindsight [Mindsight; Leavings; The Eternal Flesh]
- Earthseed: The Books of the Living [Earthseed: The First Book of the Living]
Working titles of partial manuscripts
- Parable of the Trickster [Trickster, Teacher]
- Spiritus [O My Soul; Bodhisattva]
- Asylum (sequel to Fledgling) [ Flight]
- God of Clay (variant of Parable of the Sower/ Parable of the Trickster)
- Fire, Laughter, Emeralds, Rain: a Thesaurus of First Names
- Paraclete [Revelation]
- 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
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.
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
Individual call numbers included in the collection: mssOEB 1-9062.
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
. See the Cataloger's Notes for more information.
Organized in 5 major series, plus oversize materials:
- Manuscripts (Boxes 1-201, 355-361, 387, 393-398)
- Correspondence (Boxes 202-264, 362-375)
- Photographs (Boxes 265-272)
- Subject Files (Boxes 273-290, 376) and Research Materials (Boxes 291-297, 376)
- Ephemera (Boxes 298-342, 377-385, 392)
- Oversize (Boxes 343-345, 386)
- Extra Oversize (Boxes 346-353)
- Empty Binders (Box 354)
- Broadsides (Oversize folders 1-18)
- 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
Butler, Octavia E.