As a voracious reader and professional book reviewer, it probably comes as no surprise that there are a lot of different authors I idolize, but few compare to my love of Octavia E. Butler. The grande dame of science fiction has been an idol of mine since I first read Kindred in my early twenties, and although I didn't discover her work until years after her death, I am still in awe of all of the inspiring Octavia Butler quotes that I have found.
Born June 22, 1974, in Pasadena, CA, Octavia Butler was reportedly a shy, bookish child who started writing at a young age and didn't stop until her death in 2006. A true trailblazer, Butler was one of the first black women to join the mostly white, male ranks of science fiction writers. Her novels, which range from racially charged vampire novels to time-travel slave narratives, are centered around what Butler knew best: the lives of black women.
A truly prolific writer — she even "predicted" Donald Trump's campaign slogan — who gave a voice to some of the most marginalized communities through her diverse characters, Butler didn't shy away from the ugliest truths about humanity, past and present, including our penchant for cruelty, violence, racism, discrimination, greed, lust, and power. Her body of work was, and still is, one of the most important and culturally significant contributions to modern science fiction.
And today, in honor of the 70th anniversary of her birth, here are 15 of the most inspiring Octavia Butler quotes of all time.
1“I'm trying to speak — to write — the truth. I'm trying to be clear. I'm not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them.”
2“So I preached from Luke, chapter eighteen, verses one through eight: the parable of the importunate widow. It’s one I’ve always liked. A widow is so persistent in her demands for justice that she overcomes the resistance of a judge who fears neither God nor man. She wears him down. Moral: The weak can overcome the strong if the weak persist. Persisting isn’t always safe, but it’s often necessary.”
3“Freedom is dangerous but it's precious, too. You can't just throw it away or let it slip away. You can't sell it for bread and pottage.”
4“In my years, I have seen that people must be their own gods and make their own good fortune. The bad will come or not come anyway.”
5“All that you touch, You Change. All that you Change, Changes You. The only lasting truth is Change.”
6“A partner must be biologically interesting, attractive to us, and you are fascinating. You are horror and beauty in rare combination. In a very real way, you've captured us, and we can't escape. But you're more than only the composition and the workings of your bodies. You are your personalities, your cultures.”
7“We go on having stupid wars that we justify and get passionate about, but in the end, all they do is kill huge numbers of people, maim others, impoverish still more, spread disease and hunger, and set the stage for the next war. And when we look at all of that in history, we just shrug our shoulders and say, well, that’s the way things are. That’s the way things always have been.”
8“If you want a thing — truly want it, want it so badly that you need it as you need air to breathe, then unless you die, you will have it. Why not? It has you. There is no escape. What a cruel and terrible thing escape would be if escape were possible”
9“In order to rise / From its own ashes / A phoenix First / Must / Burn.”
10“There seem to be solid biological reasons why we are the way we are. If there weren’t, the cycles wouldn’t keep replaying. The human species is a kind of animal, of course. But we can do something no other animal species has ever had the option to do. We can choose: We can go on building and destroying until we either destroy ourselves or destroy the ability of our world to sustain us. Or we can make something more of ourselves.”
11“Sometimes when I'm interviewed, the interviewer either compliments me on my 'talent', my 'gift' or asks me how I discovered it. [...] I used to struggle to answer this politely, to explain that I didn't believe much in writing talent. People who want to write either do it or they don't. At last I began to say that my most important talent — or habit — was persistence. Without it, I would have given up writing long before I finished my first novel. It's amazing what we can do if we simply refuse to give up.”
12“I was attracted to science fiction because it was so wide open. I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.”
— Interview, The Indypendent
13“I can change myself, but it’s an effort. And it doesn’t last. It’s easier to do as water does: allow myself to be contained, and take on the shape of my containers.”
14“Tolerance like any aspect of peace, is forever a work in progress, never completed and, if we're as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned.”
15““Your people contain incredible potential, but they die without using much of it.”