"Test of Time: Octavia Butler's 'Kindred' 40 years later"
Blackness exceeds space and time. That is what the late science fiction writer Octavia Butler exemplified in her 1979 novel Kindred. 40 years later, the timeless novel that mixes essences of slavery and science fiction ushered in a new wave of African American literature and culture- Afrofuturism.
Octavia Butler, Photo: NYPL.org
Butler conjures a haunting story of enslaved Black feminism and liberates it with fierce captivating revisionist history. Gabrielle Bellot writes in her 2017 LitHub article “Octavia Butler: The Brutalities of the Past Are All Around This”, “ Butler was inspired to write Kindred partly because she had heard so many young black Americans minimizing the horrors of slavery and claiming that if they had been enslaved, they simply wouldn’t have tolerated this or that… She wanted to write a novel that showed such young people what it might feel like to become a slave: not merely to teach them the brute facts about this American institution, but to show them, on the page…”
In fact, Butler did more than just teach her readers about the repercussions of slavery; she reveals elements of the past are embedded our ideas of the present. She utilizes a method of pairing romance in slavery antebellum the same way Toni Morrison does in Beloved and Alex Haley in Roots. In doing this, she humanizes her characters at a time where they would be largely seen as property.
Butler carved her own lane in the world of literature. During her time as a child, being black and female were a far cry from the bookshelves that held the names of H.G Wells, Ray Bradbury, and Kurt Vonnegut. Scholars say Butler credits her active imagination that unlocked the door to a world where she would reclaim stories of the past and make them timeless tales of strength and redemption.
Kindred was not Butler’s first work. But it was certainly one of the first pieces by a Black woman to write an intricate tale unknown or unread by many. Some of Butler’s other works include the Patternist series which include
other classics Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978), and Wild Seed (1980). Each of Butler’s works bare the tale of coming-of-age Black feminism in an ever-changing atmosphere.
Today, the late Butler is revered as a pioneer for women in science fiction. Ellen Caldwell in her 2016 JSTOR Daily article, “When Science Fiction Becomes Real: Octavia E. Butler’s Legacy” writes, “A pioneer in science fiction, Butler not only helped to pave the way for future male and female African American sci-fi writers, but reshaped the genre itself, bringing it into the 21st century with her complex treatments of race, identity, and the body politic—all explored as changing, fluid constructs.”
Forty years later, Kindred, one of the great works of Octavia Butler, standing the test of time is a testament to this.