Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field

On June 23, 2017, the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network partnered with the Huntington Library to organized the conference event titled “Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field.” This daylong event brought together six scholars who have each spent significant time in the Octavia E. Butler Papers at the Huntington Library to present their research which represented the rich complexity of Butler’s writing, career and personal life. The event was open to the public by registration and was free to students. The event attracted approximately 150 attendees, making it one of the larger conferences hosted by the Huntington.

 The conference began with co-conveners Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey setting the tone for the day, inviting people to make themselves comfortable in the space and encourages folks to either tweet their questions using the hashtag #OEBStudies or write them on individual post-it notes which they could leave on stage throughout the day. Rather than having brief question and answer periods after each panel, the co-conveners planned a robust end of day roundtable discussion which allowed both audience members and presenters to make connections across the various talks.

 Before the first panel, staff members from the Huntington Library provided brief welcomes. These speakers included Sue Hodson, Curator of Literary Collections who was the person who asked Butler to donate her papers to the Huntington in the first place, and Natalie Russell, Assistant Curator of Literary Collections who cataloged the Butler papers and curated the current Butler exhibition at the Huntington.

 The first panel opened with Sami Schalk presenting on the role of disability in Butler’s lived experiences, research, and writing followed by Jenny Terry who presented on the Afrofuturist and, Butler’s open neologism,“histofuturist” connections between Butler’s work and the work of African American artist Ellen Gallagher. The first panel concluded with Aimee Bahng talking about  Butler’s research notes about slime mold to make larger arguments about feminist queer possibilities of slime molds as well as the ways in which these beings have been taken up for capitalist means.

“Speak and Write Only of things You’ve Earned The Right to Speak and Write About Through Experience, and/or Study”

After the first panel there was a lunch break in which attendees were encouraged to go visit the Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories exhibition with a gallery tour from Natalie Russell. During both the catered lunch and the tour, participants were buzzing with excitement and sharing their love for Butler and her work with one another.

Panelist and Organizers of the OEB Studies Conference

The second panel of the day featured Cassandra Jones presenting on postcolonial approaches to reading the character Anyanwu from Butler’s Patternist series followed by Gerry Canavan who discussed what appears in various drafts of Butler’s unfinished third Parable novel, Parable of the TricksterFinally, Shelley Streeby who used Butler’s research on global warming to demonstrate how aware and prescient Butler was about climate change on not only scientific but also cultural and political levels. 

 The day ended with a collective roundtable featuring all the presenters and both conference co-conveners. Moya Bailey read questions which had been submitted throughout the day for individual panelists and the entire group. Presenters discussed more items they located in the archive and offered their perspectives on her work and the future of Octavia E. Butler Studies as a field of interdisciplinary research, activism, and art. In this final portion of the conference, audience members were encouraged to share what they learned, offer up their own memories of Butler or ask additional questions. One audience member shared a particularly lovely story stating that years ago her book club invited Butler to attend after they read one of her books. During the book club discussion Butler asked them each what they would do if they could do one thing to change the world. After each person shared, they asked Butler what she would do and she replied “I would make men smaller.” It is responses like this, honest, humorous and political, that attract so many people to Butler and her work. Through the conference, we hope to continue to promote, grow and honor her legacy. As one small piece of this effort, at the close of the conference Moya Bailey asked everyone to share one word they would take away from the event with them. As people shared their single words, Moya shared with the crowd seeds from Earthseed Detroit and Get Ready, Stay Ready that could be planted outdoors. As the bag of seeds was passed around, a found poem of words resonated one of one throughout the auditorium: collective, community, vision, spirit, gratitude, and on and on for well over 100 unique words from over 100 unique attendees, scholars, fans, artists, and even friends and loved ones of Butler.

If you would like to further explore this incredible event, view the Storify of live-tweets or listen to the audio of all the presentations on SoundCloud.

Reflections on #ShapingChange

The Shaping Change: Remembering Octavia E. Butler Through Archives, Art, and Worldmaking Conference was held at the University of California, San Diego June 3-5, 2016. The conference brought together academics, archivists, educators, visual and textile artists, writers, activists, students and more for this unique event. Approximately 100 people attended the conference each day over the course of the three-day event.

The conference was made possible by the generous support of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, several departments and organizations on the UCSD campus and the tireless efforts of co-organizer Shelley Streeby. In many ways, it was most appropriate for the conference to be co-sponsored  by the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and co-organized by Ayana Jamieson because this event was truly about Butler’s legacy, how her work and her life have inspired the intellectual, creative, emotional and professional labor of so many people of all races, genders, sexualities, and ages. The diversity of the crowd reflected the diversity of Butler’s many worlds, with women of color often center stage, leading and speaking at the front of the room. Participants viewed excerpts from M. Asli Dukan’s forthcoming documentary Invisible Universe as well as mixed media visual art from Krista Franklin, handmade books from Monica Hand, Ella Maria Ray’s“Sankofic” clay quilts and masks and more, all inspired by Butler’s work.  


A few imaged from the conference. Top row, from left to right: Walidah Imarisha, adrienne maree brown. Bottom row: Rasheedah Phillips, Nisi Shawl.

One of the many highlights of the weekend was hearing the life-changing impact of receiving the Carl Brandon Society’s Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop Octavia E. Butler Scholars. We also listened to excerpts of creative writing by writers and students in the MFA program at UCSD. We experienced manifestation work, an Earthseed community ritual, and a workshop on the importance of keeping an archive of our own lives. We learned about what scholars have been uncovering in Butler’s own archive at the Huntington Library, about slime molds, fan culture, life logging, digital humanities, Black Quantum Futurism, and the relationship between Butler’s work and recent speculative fiction by other writers of color. We were exposed to activist projects happening at the Mexico/US border, Farm Worker Futurism’s parallels with the Parable duology, the Free Black Women’s Library, and through the writing, editing, and distribution of the recent edited collection Octavia’s Brood.


“the lessons of lauren olamina!! by @lacocoafemme (Ola Ronke) at the church of ‪#‎shapingchange‬ ‪#‎becauseofoctavia‬ ‪#‎shapegod‬ ‪#‎shapeself‬” ~adrienne maree brown

If this seems like a lot, like more than anyone could possibly fit into two and a half days—then you understand why the days were long, and why the questions and conversations had to spill over into lunch breaks and social media. We simply could not be contained!

How many conferences have people from such different intellectual and creative background talking to and working with one another? How many conferences have panels that make half the room cry? How many conferences end with people asserting they have found the community they had long been searching for? Personally, I’ve been attending academic and creative writing conferences for ten years and I can name only two other events that feel so much like home. It is a rarity and a gift, that in this case, is a testament to the visionary work of Octavia E. Butler.

To those of us at the conference and to many others, she was not merely an author, she was an inspiration and a friend (literally, sometimes, for folks who knew her in life, metaphysically for those of us who know who through her writing and archives alone). Butler’s work and life speak to the need for diverse communities which support each other and challenge each other, embracing and shaping change within ourselves as individuals, within our smaller networks, and within the world.


“#‎BecauseofOctavia‬ we are convening and collaborating at the ‪#‎ShapingChange‬ conference at UCSD. Thank you to Ayana Jaimeson and Shelley Streeby for bringing us together. ‪#‎blackscifidoc‬” ~ M. Asli Dukan

For people unable to attend, you can check out much of what happened, including some most excellent photos, quotes, and links to images, websites, and videos by searching for the hashtag #ShapingChange on Twitter, or checking out this Storify by OEB Legacy Network’s own digital alchemist, Moya Bailey. Additionally, at the beginning of the conference all presenters were asked to share, at the start of their talks, their own #BecauseOfOctavia statement. This hashtag comes from a collaboration between OebLegacy and Clockshop’s yearlong celebration of the life and legacy of Butler called Radio Imagination and we encourage everyone to let us know what you have learned or done #BecauseOfOctavia throughout June, Butler’s birthday month. The Shaping Change conference was #BecauseOfOctavia and those of us in attendance will be reaping the rewards of that time together for years to come, not only because of the things we were exposed to and learned about, but also because of the connections we made and strengthened as well.

RADIO IMAGINATION: Artists and Writers in the Archive of Octavia E. Butler

clockshop image

We’re pleased to announce our partnership with the Los Angeles-based arts nonprofit Clockshop. Clockshop has just announced the launch of Radio Imagination, a citywide collaboration of artistic and public programs that celebrate the life and work of Pasadena science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006). Organized by Clockshop, Radio Imagination is a yearlong series of performances, film screenings, and literary events. At the center of the program are 10 commissions by 12 contemporary artists and writers that explore the Octavia E. Butler Papers at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Cultural institutions citywide join Clockshop in a yearlong celebration of the life and work of science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler

February 2016–January 2017.

Download the press release

For schedule of events and updates, visit clockshop.org


The February OEB Legacy Conference is fully funded!

Thank you to everyone who donated and spread the word about our fundraiser! We reached our goal and then some because of you!

We are now able to:

  • cover the cost of an event of 10 years of Octavia’s passing including the free public Radio Imagination  launch party.
  • pay DJ Lynnee Denise to spin at the launch party (click the link to r.s.v.p)

Thanks again We couldn’t have done it without you!


Butler’s 1965 senior class photo from John Muir High School in Pasadena, California.

Butler’s 1965 senior class photo from John Muir High School in Pasadena, California.

Octavia E. Butler was an original gangsta/god¹ quirky black girl (QBG). A nerd, an introvert, and empath, Octavia loved to make up stories to entertain herself. She was a loner, sometimes by choice, but not always. Her friends wanted to be like her. In her journals, she talked of little friends who wanted to write stories but their stories were terrible. She was the kind who would tell them so. She wanted them to know their writing was bad so they could work on being better. Most of them weren’t ready for her candor.

Octavia wore what was comfortable and what she could afford. She was big for her age, soft-spoken, and shy with those who didn’t know her but she was the asker of insistent questions of those who did. She was fascinated by religion and at the age of 12 surveyed her friends and family to see what they thought of the existence of god, the afterlife, and Hell. One survey question was “How do you know God is real?” Her mother didn’t answer that question.

Her work in science fiction solidifies her QBG status but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Her way of seeing the world and moving through it showed up in her work. But as they say, life is stranger than fiction. This certified Black girl genius felt the world so deeply she often needed to keep her distance from it. A quirkyalone with literary progeny as well as those of us who claim to be a part of her brood, Butler is a QBG foremother for sure!

QBG Love,

Moya Bailey

QBG Founder & Digital Alchemist for OEB Legacy


¹ OG is slang that commonly means “original gangsta” however, before this became the popular definition, OG also meant Other God, in reference to members of the nations of Gods and Earth.

A Mini/Archival Review of “A Necessary Being” from Unexpected Stories

Octavia Butler’s Unexpected Stories comes is out todayunexpected cover, 6/24/14! The collection consists of two short stories, a forward by Walter Mosley and afterword by Butler’s literary agent Merilee Heifetz. Here is a spoiler-free mini review of “A Necessary Being.”

There are many things to love about “A necessary Being.” In the archive, there is a list of fight moves that Butler wrote down to keep herself on track while she was writing the fight scenes. The culture and world building are also tantalizing. For example, what is a bite on the neck? What does it signify? I will just say that the close relationships between intimacy, vulnerability, life, and death are all intertwined here.

I also enjoyed the lack of actual human beings in the story and the world that seems all too real! This doesn’t look like any kind of Star Trek novel prequel to me. The aliens in this story are not under the western/human gaze. She filtered out the colonial, paternalistic attitudes that are prominent in many other kinds of stories. She asked questions with her writing about leadership, service, community, and death that I will spend a lot of time unpacking. This story is no different.

The title is from the following quote:

If God were not a necessary Being of Himself, He might almost seem to be made for the use and benefit of men. (John Tillotson)

The handwritten quote is along  with the citation of where she found it is at the bottom of the cover page. I was wondering if they would include the quote at the beginning of the short story. The final draft is dated December 2, 1973 when Octavia was about 26 years old.

quote-if-god-were-not-a-necessary-being-of-himself-he-might-almost-seem-to-be-made-for-the-use-and-john-tillotson-334365You can get a copy here or wherever ebooks are sold.

There are an lots of little juicy tidbits and goodies from the archives that we hope to share with you as time allows. Until then, you can check out findingestella.com for cute snips and videos of archival materials compiled by Marisa Parham.

I am really excited about hearing what other folks in the @oeblegacy community are saying and feeling about this new offering? What are your favorite things about the Unexpected Stories?

~Ayana A. H. Jamieson

Founder of OEBLegacy

Octavia E. Butler’s Transition Anniversary ~ OEBLegacy is a Year Old!

It’s been a year since we launched the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network (OEBLegacy) on Facebook to raise awareness about the state of Butler’s gravesite in Altadena, California. Eight years ago today, Octavia made the transition to the realm of the ancestors. We commemorate her life today and throughout the year and February 24th always marks a special day for OEBLegacy Network.

When I first visited her final resting place in August 2011, her headstone was so overgrown that I couldn’t find it. I quickly realized that her physical memorial is just one part of her legacy. Since 2011 through OEBLEgacy, we all realize that her legacy is so much more. It has been a year since the Facebook launch. I am grateful for a year of reading her work intentionally in community, building relationships, and looking back at her life’s work while also looking toward the future. We have some exciting announcements to make when more details become available. In the meantime, there are some ways you can celebrate and commemorate with us today and throughout the year.

Go through the OEBLegacy Tumblr archive and look at some of the images, quotes, videos, and links we’ve shared. We are most proud of being able to hold a virtual community memorial gathering for #visitoctaviabutler2013 in honor of her birthday. Folks were able to submit love notes to Octavia for her birthday in 2013 and we’ll be doing it again this year. We’ll let you know how to submit your 2014 love note birthday wishes soon!

If you want to check out some of what you’ve missed over the last year, you can like our Facebook page and follow us on Tumblr and Twitter. This year we will deepen and broaden our commitment to sharing and supporting her legacy. To accomplish this, the OebLegacy blog will be updated more frequently and we’ll continue to share events we are looking forward to that are planned by others and the ones we have in the works.

In her memory,

Ayana A. H. Jamieson

Founder of OebLegacy

shaping change through reading and relationship