I discovered Octavia Butler’s work when I was in my thirties. I don’t remember how I came across Parable of the Sower, but in the days after 9/11, when it seemed we were lurching into a civilizational war, Butler’s dystopian novel was a revelation for me. It wasn’t just the themes she explored or the audacity of her ideas that thrilled, it was the perspective of her characters that truly engaged me. Growing up, I’d read lots of speculative fiction. While these works had always entertained, I’d never really connected with them at a more essential level, I could not recognize myself or the people around me in the fantastical books that I was reading. Perhaps that’s why, as an Asian kid who grew up in Hawaii public housing, I’d come to regard SF as a relic of my childhood.
Octavia Butler brought me back to speculative fiction. Despite the differences in our backgrounds, I recognized my own experiences in her work— the sense of being an outsider in your own culture, a sojourner in the only world you have ever known, a longing for something more, for connection and community. I began reading all of her books— Kindred, the Patternist series, the Xenogenesis trilogy. Each reaffirmed not only Octavia Butler’s extraordinary talent, but also her deep empathy for determined survivors trying to navigate oceans of brutality and oppression.
As I came late to Octavia Butler’s work, I also started writing fiction later than most at age forty. In 2011, I was honored to be awarded the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. Attending the Clarion Writers’ Workshop was a powerful experience. As a Butler Scholar, I felt an added responsibility to contribute to the workshop. While I never met Octavia Butler, I like to think that she would have enjoyed knowing that the scholarship in her honor enabled an older, Asian-American writer who uses a wheelchair to be part of the very writing workshop she attended and taught. The sense of community I found at Clarion reflected the inclusive vision of Octavia Butler’s writing. I am, and remain, deeply grateful to have been part of the Clarion Class of 2011. It would not have been possible without the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.