Octavia Butler, Kindred ⇢ fiction recuperates “data”

No matter how hard we try, Octavia Butler’s novels are incredibly difficult to define. Much of this has to do with the fact that Butler was herself deeply immersed in various science fiction writing communities, which have been historically marginal to and marginalizing of the critical and creative discourses that readers from outside of that world assign to her.


There’s more to say about all of this, but here is an example of Octavia Butler showing her cagey side. The interviewer wants Butler to connect Kindred to the black diasporic concept of Sankofa,

Q. Your novels deal with the past, future and present as one. Some have compared it to the concept of Sankofa “We look to the past to understand the present and prepare for the future.” How do you see the concept of Sankofa playing in your work?”

Butler resists the categorization, and brings the conversation back to her own impetus in writing Kindred, which she wrote as a corrective to some of her friends’ compulsive consumption and regurgitation of facts about slavery. Butler saw this as harmful to black people’s ability to actually learn from the past, because the cataloging of past atrocities overshadowed the meaningfulness of slaves’ lived existences:

“I was trying to make real the emotional reality of slavery. I was trying make people feel more about the data they had learned. I wanted to make the past real and [show] how it scars the present.”

–Octavia Butler, on Kindred


2 thoughts on “Octavia Butler, Kindred ⇢ fiction recuperates “data”

  1. As I am reading Kindred at this very moment, I am struck with the visceral feelings it evokes. I appreciate reading what you’ve written here as I continue the novel. Thank you!

    • yay! I’m glad you like. I’m working on a longer post for March, on some of Butler’s struggles with writing Kindred, and maybe even thoughts on her correspondence with Toni Morrison about the book 🙂

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