1947-2006. She was born in Pasadena, California, and died in Lake Forest, Washington. Her parent were a housemaid and a shoeshine man. Her father died when she was only 7 years old, so her mother and maternal grandma raised her in a strict Baptist environment.
When she was 13, she accompanied her mother to work at people’s homes. Even though Pasadena was integrated, she saw her mother badly treated by her white employers.
She was extremely shy and slightly dyslexic. She believed herself to be awkward, stupid, ugly, and socially hopeless. She became an easy target for bullies. She frequently went to the library for solace. She wrote frequently in her pink note of fairy tales and horses. Later, she became a fan of science fiction.
She begged her mom for a Remington typewriter and typed her stories with two fingers when she was 10.
At 12, she saw on TV a movie, Devil Girl from Mars, and thought she could write better science fiction than that. At 13, her aunt told her, “Honey, Negroes can’t be writers.”
But she persevered, even asked her junior high school teacher to help type a science fiction manuscript and sent it to a science fiction magazine. She didn’t get published.
After graduating high school in 1965, she went to Pasadena City College at night. As a freshman, she won a college wide short story contest and got $15 for it. She became involved with the Black Power Movement through a male friend of hers. She gruadated PCC in 1968, with Associated Arts in History. Her mother insisted she take up secretarial work as steady income. Butler took up several temporary jobs. She could get up 2-3 in the morning and write until she went to work.
She took up writing classes through UCLA extension courses. She went to Open Door Workshop of Screenwriters’ Guild of America, a program designed for mentoring minority writers.
Harlan Ellison was one of her mentors and was impressed by her writing. He encouraged her to a six week Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania. There she met another black science fiction writer, Samuel R. Delaney, who became a lifelong friend.
She sold her first science fiction short story, Child Finder, to Harlan Ellison, which he put in his anthology Last Dangerous Visions, though it didn’t get published.
She wrote Crossover and sold it to Robin Scott Wilson, director of the Clarion, who published it in the 1971 Clarion anthology.
5 years later, she published her first book, Pattern Master, which was first of a series. By then, she was able to live off her writings.
Her 1984 story Speech Sounds won a Hugo award for short story.
In 1995, she became first science fiction writer to earn the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award. It had prize of $295,000.
In 1999, her mother died and she moved to Lake Forest Park, Washington. She got a Nebula Award for her works. Her last book was a science fiction vampire story, Fledgling in 2005. In Chicago, she was inducted to the Chicago State University International Black Writers Hall of Fame. She died at her home in 2006. How she died isn’t clear. The best guess was she had a stroke and fell down in her walkway with head injuries.
She suffered from high blood pressure and depression. She been tied to the Afrocentrism of the future vision.