Octavia E Butler was an award-winning science fiction author whose work is still celebrated today. She broke ground by becoming one of the few women of color to enter the sci-fi scene, which up until that point had been dominated by white men.
She received numerous accolades during her career and went on to win the prestigious Nebula Prize and the Hugo Award two times over.
Her most celebrated and recognized work is Kindred, a fascinating novel that blends concepts of time travel with the horrors of American slavery. It was published in 1979 and is still hugely popular today. It’s a common text on high school and university curriculums and is still a frequent feature in the top 100 reads lists.
Butler sadly passed away in 2006, but her legacy as a celebrated author remains to this day. Her works stretched way beyond the realms of sci-fi to explore the concepts of societal expectations, empathy and understanding, and our deep-rooted connections to each other.
I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Octavia Butler quotes, from her nuggets of wisdom on writing, success, and sci-fi, to tantalizing passages from her popular novels, novellas, and short stories.
50 Octavia E Butler Quotes
“When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.”― Fledgling
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
God is Change.”
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”― Bloodchild and Other Stories
“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”― Parable of the Talents
“People have the right to call themselves whatever they like. That doesn’t bother me. It’s other people doing the calling that bothers me.”
“In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn.”― Parable of the Talents
“I’m a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black,…an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”
“There is no end
To what a living world
Will demand of you.”― Parable of the Sower
Fighting their rescuers.”
“I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.”
Irrational and blind,
Or fear looms,
Defiant and closed.
Ignorance grows.”― Parable of the Talents
“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
“All struggles are essentially power struggles. Who will rule? Who will lead? Who will define, refine, confine, design? Who will dominate? All struggles are essentially power struggles, and most are no more intellectual than two rams knocking their heads together.”
Or at peace,
More people die
Of unenlightened self-interest
Than of any other disease”
“I have a huge and savage conscience that won’t let me get away with things.”
“Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of “wrong” ideas.”
“All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change.”― Parable of the Sower
“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.”
“Kindness eases change.
Love quiets fear.
And a sweet and powerful
And engages each of us
In the greatest,
The most intense
Of our chosen struggles.”― Parable of the Talents
“The child in each of us
Paradise is home.
Home as it was
Or home as it should have been.
Paradise is one’s own place,
One’s own people,
One’s own world,
Knowing and known,
Loving and loved.
Yet every child
Is cast from paradise-
Into growth and new community,
Into vast, ongoing
Change.”― Parable of the Sower
“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”
Let the past
Leaders and thinkers.
Let them inspire you,
Give you strength.
God is change.
Past is past.
know the past.
Let it touch you.
Go.”― Parable of the Talents
“Better to stay alive,” I said. “At least while there’s a chance to get free.” I thought of the sleeping pills in my bag and wondered just how great a hypocrite I was. It was so easy to advise other people to live with their pain.”― Kindred
“Embrace diversity. Unite— or be divided, robbed, ruled, killed by those who see you as prey. Embrace diversity or be destroyed.”― Parable of the Sower
“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.”― Wild Seed
“When apparent stability disintegrates,
As it must-
God is Change-
People tend to give in
To fear and depression,
To need and greed.
When no influence is strong enough
To unify people
One against one,
Group against group,
For survival, position, power.
They remember old hates and generate new ones,
They create chaos and nurture it.
They kill and kill and kill,
Until they are exhausted and destroyed,
Until they are conquered by outside forces,
Or until one of them becomes
Most will follow,
Or a tyrant
“The essentials,” I answered, “are to learn to shape God with forethought, care, and work; to educate and benefit their community, their families, and themselves; and to contribute to the fulfillment of the Destiny.”― Parable of the Sower
“The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren’t any other kind, and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that glint of water was through the trees.”― Parable of the Sower
“Create no images of God. Accept the images that God has provided. They are everywhere, in everything. God is Change— Seed to tree, tree to forest; Rain to river, river to sea; Grubs to bees, bees to swarm. From one, many; from many, one; Forever uniting, growing, dissolving— forever Changing. The universe is God’s self-portrait.”― Parable of the Sower
“Cities controlled by big companies are old hat in science fiction. My grandmother left a whole bookcase of old science fiction novels. The company-city subgenre always seemed to star a hero who outsmarted, overthrew, or escaped “the company.” I’ve never seen one where the hero fought like hell to get taken in and underpaid by the company. In real life, that’s the way it will be. That’s the way it always is.”― Parable of the Sower
is the one unavoidable,
ongoing reality of the universe.
that makes it the most powerful reality,
and just another word for
“Positive obsession is about not being able to stop just because you’re afraid and full of doubts. Positive obsession is dangerous. It’s about not being able to stop at all.”― Bloodchild and Other Stories
“Fantasy is totally wide open; all you really have to do is follow the rules you’ve set. But if you’re writing about science, you have to first learn what you’re writing about.”
“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.”― Parable of the Sower
“Civilization is the way one’s own people live. Savagery is the way foreigners live.”― Wild Seed
“You are hierarchical. That’s the older and more entrenched characteristic. We saw it in your closest animal relatives and in your most distant ones. It’s a terrestrial characteristic. When human intelligence served it instead of guiding it, when human intelligence did not even acknowledge it as a problem, but took pride in it or did not notice it at all… That was like ignoring cancer.”
“That’s all anybody can do right now. Live. Hold out. Survive. I don’t know whether good times are coming back again. But I know that won’t matter if we don’t survive these times.”― Parable of the Sower
“…I realized that I knew less about loneliness than I had thought – and much less than I would know when he went away.”― Kindred
“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.”― Parable of the Sower
“The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”― Kindred
“Civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. It is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation. Civilization, like intelligence, may serve well, serve adequately, or fail to serve its adaptive function. When civilization fails to serve, it must disintegrate unless it is acted upon by unifying internal or external forces.”― Parable of the Sower
Self is body and bodily
perception. Self is thought, memory,
belief. Self creates. Self destroys.
Self learns, discovers, becomes.
Self shapes. Self adapts. Self
invents its own reasons for being.
To shape God, shape Self.”― Parable of the Talents
“To get along with God,
Consider the consequences of your behavior.”
“That which could hunger, could starve.”
“The weak can overcome the strong if the weak persist. Persisting isn’t always safe, but it’s often necessary.”―Parable of the Sower
“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.”― Parable of the Talents
“I wasn’t trying to work out my own ancestry. I was trying to get people to feel slavery. I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people.”
“As a kind of castaway myself, I was happy to escape into the fictional world of someone else’s trouble.”― Kindred
“Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.”
“My God doesn’t love me or hate me or watch over me or know me at all, and I feel no love for or loyalty to my God. My God just is.”― Parable of the Sower
Octavia E Butler’s writing is as relevant now as it was when it was first published. Her words touch on a universal and lasting truth about the nature of humans and society, and in today’s divided world, it’s impossible to miss the striking parallels.
I hope you enjoyed reading Butler’s profound quotes. Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.