It Took Nearly 50 Years, but This Week, Octavia Butler Made the New York Times Best Sellers' List

Science Fiction writer Octavia Butler poses for a photograph near some of her novels at University Book Store in Seattle, Wash., on Feb. 4, 2004.
Science Fiction writer Octavia Butler poses for a photograph near some of her novels at University Book Store in Seattle, Wash., on Feb. 4, 2004.
Photo: Joshua Trujillo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer (AP)
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“I write bestselling novels,” Octavia Butler wrote on the inside cover of a notebook in 1988. 32 years later, that affirmation has come to pass. As reported by LitHub, on Wednesday, Butler’s agent, Merrilee Heifetz, tweeted that the author’s 1993 novel, Parable of the Sower, had made it onto the New York Times Best Sellers’ List; widely considered the pinnacle of commercial success for an author.

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To call Butler prophetic would be an understatement. Aside from predicting her arrival at bestseller status, the science fiction writing pioneer, who was first published almost a half-century ago in the early 1970s and tragically died after a fall in 2006, has long been considered one of the best to ever do it. But despite being the first sci-fi author to receive a MacArthur Genius Grant, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award by the PEN American Center and posthumous induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, as a Black female writer, Butler was still a relative anomaly in the genre at the time of her untimely death at age 58. In the years since, an exciting cadre of Black female sci-fi and fantasy writers has followed in her stead, including N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor and Tomi Adeyemi.

As for Parable of the Sower, which was initially intended as the first book in a trilogy (Parable of the Talents would follow in 1998) that comprised her Earthseed series, renewed interest in its dystopian narrative is no doubt due to how closely its projection of American life in 2024 eerily echoes our current trajectory. The parallels have not gone unnoticed by singer-songwriter Toshi Reagon, who, along with her mother, academic and Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Johnson Reagon, adapted and developed Parable of the Sower into a blues, folks and rock opera that had been touring the world to increasing acclaim prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

“A lot of people didn’t know Octavia Butler or the significance of this book, but Parable of the Sower is kind of on the level of a bible; just a really powerful human story,” Reagon told The Root in April of this year.

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“Octavia made it very clear in her predicting: it’d be our disinterest with our civic duties that’d move very lame people into powerful positions, and with those powerful positions they’d take up a lot of resources and a lot of space,” she said.

Hopefully, the readers now discovering or revisiting Butler’s seminal work are getting the message; with a crucial presidential election hanging in the balance, Butler’s acclaimed fiction is on the precipice of becoming reality.

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“If you make decisions based on your biases—and by the time Parable happens, which is just four years from now, right on track—we have such a horrific situation in terms of administration of the United States of America...We all have the potential to be refugees in America, and that’s very real,” Reagon warned. “And this particular virus is an opportunity for us to really flip that narrative into the speculative fiction world where it needs to live—and actually, in our real world, turn things around in our own ways.”

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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DISCUSSION

jwhconnecticut
chubsyubsy

Was there something in particular that led to the recent sales boost? Was it the blues/rock opera, or something else?