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Reader Response: Pat Mora and James Welch Reader Response: Keith Gilyard and Mourning Dove Inquiry: Rudolfo Anaya and James Baldwin Inquiry: Tomás Rivera and Esmeralda Santiago Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón Cultural Studies: N. Scott Momaday and Russell Leong Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Ruthanne Lum McCunn Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada
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Session 7 Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Ruthanne Lum McCunn - Authors and Literary Works

Author: Octavia E. Butler
Work: Parable of the Sower
Author: Ruthanne Lum McCunn
Work: Thousand Pieces of Gold


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Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler was the first African American woman to become a major science fiction author; she was also one of the best-known and most admired authors in the country. Her work reflects on many of the most pressing issues in American society, including race, religion, technology, the environment, and geopolitics. Butler's work often predicts the future in precise terms, but she cannot be pigeonholed as a stereotypical science fiction writer since, as educator and psychologist Rosemary Stevenson points out, Butler's "character development, human relationships, and social concerns predominate over intergalactic hardware."

Octavia Estelle Butler was born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California. Her father was a shoeshine man who died soon after she was born; her mother was a maid who taught her daughter to love stories and storytelling. Butler comments: "My mother read me bedtime stories until I was six years old. It was a sneak attack on her part. As soon as I really got to like the stories, she said, 'Here's the book. Now you read.' She didn't know what she was setting us both up for."

Butler credited her mother with instilling in her a love of reading, but she credited a bad sci-fi movie for her love of writing. She explained: "I was writing my own little stories, and when I was 12, I was watching a bad science fiction movie [Devil Girl From Mars] and decided that I could write a better story than that. And I turned off the TV and proceeded to try, and I've been writing science fiction ever since." Butler pursued writing in her spare time while she continued her education, earning an A.A. degree in 1968 from Pasadena City College and attending California State University, Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles. Butler further honed her writing skills in two key programs: the Open Door program of the Screenwriters Guild of America and the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop.

Butler's writing was shaped most powerfully, however, by her own dogged determination. In her essay "Furor Scribendi" (Latin for "rage for writing"), she described her path to honored professionalism: "First, forget inspiration," she writes. "Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not ... Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don't have it, it doesn't matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent ... Finally, don't worry about imagination. You have all the imagination you need ... Persist."

Butler's persistence paid off in a long, successful career featuring several science fiction trilogies, collections of short stories, and stand-alone novels. Her work often features imaginative figures -- aliens, telepaths, immortals, gene-swappers, and so forth -- but it also features careful analysis of social issues and subtle psychological insights. Her work has been admired by readers and critics alike, and has garnered her numerous awards: the 1980 James Tiptree, Jr. Award for Wild Seed; Hugo Awards for "Speech Sounds" and "Bloodchild, " in 1984 and 1985, respectively; Nebula Awards for "Bloodchild" in 1984 and Parable of the Talents in 1999; a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award in 1995; and a PEN Center West Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Parable of the Sower (1993) was both a finalist for the Nebula Award and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Butler wrote books that are fast-paced, surprising, and thick with social reflection. They are also fun to read. As a reviewer for the Washington Post Book World commented in an article about Parable of the Talents: "Octavia E. Butler is one of the finest voices in fiction, period ... A master storyteller, Butler casts an unflinching eye on racism, sexism, poverty, and ignorance and lets the reader see the terror and beauty of human nature."

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