Science fiction master Octavia Butler has been receiving lots of attention lately for her political prescience. Also of note, though, is the upcoming public release of her material from The Huntington Library's archives, which comprises her journals and personal papers (i.e., "rough and original novel drafts, photographs, journals, personal correspondences, financial records, mementos and memorabilia," according to the Los Angeles Review of Books). Here's a spread from one of the former:
Writers, heed what Ms. Butler writes in purple: "All good things must begin."
What was the most surprising thing you discovered while going through the archives at The Huntington?
The thing that has surprised me most was really how cash poor she was. She’d journal just about every single day. She would write something in her journals and then she would work on her novels or a story or whatever. She would be doing calculations in the margins — word counts and how much she would be paid per word for something, how much money she had to get through the week, or how much or how little food she could purchase. Her shopping lists down to the penny. Which meant she had to go without a lot of things to produce the writing that we have been gifted. And it was kind of heartbreaking. And I wouldn’t use the word surprising.
The other thing that affected me very deeply came when I was doing some research on the letters between her and Toni Cade Bambara for an article for The Feminist Wire. I came across this photocopy of a greeting card she had sent her mother. The card said: “Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas, Mama. Don’t write on the check.” Octavia had a copy of the mortgage statement and the check that she had sent to pay off her mother’s mortgage. Finally, she’d had enough money. I think she’d gotten an advance on one of the Xenogenesis books, or maybe the whole series [which includes Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago]. But she’d gotten a bunch of money and that’s one of the things that she did. I found that extremely touching and so generous and so loving — that her mother would not have to worry about paying rent or a mortgage. That, to me, was really, really moving.
If you're willing or able to make the trip to L.A. for the opening in April, up through August, more power to you! We may not have access to the full archives here at SLPL (at least not yet -- let's hope The Huntington digitizes!), but we do still have some interesting stuff on Ms. Butler you can check out:
Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African-American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler
Also on-shelf are her fiction titles:
Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1)
Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2)
Lilith's Brood (Xenogenesis #1-3)
Seed to Harvest (Patternmaster #1-4)
(...to name her most popular. Comb through our full holdings here.)