Octavia Butler was the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship — a particularly impressive feat, considering the hurdles that have traditional stood in the way for both women, and Black people, in publishing and elsewhere. 11 years later, she died of a stroke at the age of 58. And despite her critical acclaim, she never received enough commercial success in her life to achieve her life goal of making it onto coveted the New York Times' Bestseller List.
But now, 49 years after the publication of her first short story and 14 years after her death, that's finally changed.
Butler's Parable of the Sower has reached #14 on the paperback fiction list, for the week ending August 29, 2020 (published as the list on September 13). It's a powerful moment for Butler and her legacy, but also eerily prescient, given the content of the book itself. Originally published in 1993, Parable of the Sower was set in the then-future of 2020, in a world where the United States is ravaged by climate change, corporate oligarchy, class war, racism, and violence. A charismatic con-artist wins the Presidential Election with a promise to make America great again.
I'll be honest: I'd had Parable of the Sower on my Nook for years, and didn't actually start reading it myself until a month ago. I had no idea that my choice fit right into the zeitgeist, but I suppose it's not surprising, given that the book feels like a diary of right now. Sometimes while reading it, I had to remind myself that it was technically a work of speculative fiction.
It's tragic that it took so long for Butler's work to be recognized with commercial success like this. But at least people are reading it now.
Image via Wikimedia Commons (CC 2.5)