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“I Shall Be a Bestselling Writer” — Octavia E. Butler Gives Herself the Advice We All Need to Hear

Posted Mon, 2/08/2016 - 8:00am by  |  Category:

Feel like you’ve been seeing a lot of news about Octavia E. Butler lately? Unfortunately, it’s in honor of a sad anniversary. As of February 24, it’s been ten years since the beloved author died at age 58.

The anniversary has a silver lining, however: a built-in reason to honor all Butler contributed to literature and, for our fellow Seattleites, to the Emerald City’s arts culture.

Octavia E. Butler's notebook advice

Image courtesy of The Huntington Library

That’s why we’re sharing this peek inside her notebook from The Huntington Library in California, which houses her papers. They arrived, Huntington notes, in “two four-drawer file cabinets and about 35 large cartons.” It took three years to go through them.

Nestled among the short stories she wrote at age twelve, book contracts, and speaking-engagement programs was an unassuming notebook from 1988. Handwritten on the inside cover were the notes featured to the left, aka the writing advice we all need to hear.

Plus, as Ploughshares wrote earlier today, her notes illustrate the “anxieties” of writers of color. Daniel Peña writes, “I’ve known so many writers of color driven into severe debt or financial ruin in the pursuit of reaching the literary mountaintop.” Indeed, it’s unfortunate there aren’t more Octavias to send them all to Washington’s own Clarion West Writers Workshop. We’d say more, but Peña’s article nailed it.

As for Butler, her love affair with notebooks is well-documented. “I hid out in a big pink notebook,” she once wrote. “I made myself a universe in it.” While the one featured here may not be pink (at least from what we can tell), use it as your inspiration for Seattle Public Library’s Flash Fiction Contest, “Door to a Pink Universe.”

Among other requirements, entries must be science fiction, 500 to 750 words, and be set in any one of The Seattle Public Library locations. Entries due by Leap Day.

And if you’re still looking for ways to celebrate Butler (of course you are!) may we suggest this free event? On March 22 at 7 p.m., local authors and friends of Butler will gather at Hugo House to share stories and read from Butler’s work. Bring your notebook to jot down inspiration.