LITERATURE

A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia Butler

Angel City Press. Oct. 2020. 176p. ISBN 9781626400634. $30. LIT
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In 2008, Octavia E. Butler’s archive of more than 8,000 items went to the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. Journalist essayist George (After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame) had the privilege to comb through it all. George’s book is not a biography or study of Butler’s literary legacy, but an examination of the process by which head-in-the-clouds Estelle transformed into groundbreaking Octavia. Estelle was already writing in cast-off journals her mother brought home from domestic jobs. One day while doing Estelles’s hair, her mother offhandedly remarked that maybe Estelle would be a writer. The fuse was lit. Butler begins making lists, reading everything, writing stories and notes to herself, trying to figure out how to become a writer. Later, more lists—planning, budget, needs. Calculating, always, to facilitate maximum writing time. Butler’s archive shows where single-minded dedication can lead.
VERDICT Filled with Butler’s voice, photos of lists, notebooks, and other ephemera, this volume outlines a life map, a model, a vision of possibilities that is sure to inspire budding writers to, as Butler did, imagine a world that is different and make a place for themselves in it. Also a must-read for Butler fans.

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