Writer Octavia Butler speaks to studentsThe Cleveland Stater, 4/18/02
By George Squirek
They say that fact is stranger than fiction. This is the case for science fiction author Octavia Butler’s inspiration for her books Parable of the Sower and Parable of Talents.
In her April 11 visit to Cleveland State’s Theater Cafe, located in the theater arts building, Butler discussed how her grandmother was the inspiration for the books’ character, Lauren Oya Olamina.
“Parable of the Sower and Parable of Talents is together, the near future story of one woman’s obsessive struggle to spread a belief system,” Butler explained.
“One that focuses humanity on the constructive goals and turns it away from the chaos in which it always seems to be descending.”
Parable of the Sower is a story of problems, while Parable of Talents is a story of solution,” she said. The main character wants to make the world a better place, but she doesn’t know how. Butler said when she first started the book she, like the character in the story, had no idea how to accomplish this in a realistic way. She said she wanted the character to have the ability to create something from nothing.
Butler related the story of her grandmother’s life. Her grandmother married a man when she was 12; he was in his 40’s. She found herself a widow at a young age, with a number of children during the Great Depression, and realized that she had to do something for her family.
She heard of work opportunities in California, so she left her children in the care of friends and worked as a maid until she saved enough money to bring her family West.
Eventually, she bought a small café, and when the business started doing well she bought her sons a truck for hauling. Between the two successful businesses, she purchased and started a ranch. She sold eggs to local independent grocers and divided the house she owned for her expanding family.
Butler’s grandmother often helped friends who had experienced hard times.
Butler described these accomplishments as amazing because it occurred during the beginning of the 20th century, a time that was not kind to many poor families, let alone a single black female.
Butler became one of the first recognized black female science fiction writers of the 1970’s. She eventually won numerous awards, like the Nebula for excellence in science fiction writing, and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship in 1995.