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Octavia E. Butler, considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, died Feb. 24 in Seattle after striking her head during a fall on the sidewalk. She was 58.

Butler’s work wasn’t preoccupied with robots and ray guns, Howle said, but used the genre’s artistic freedom to explore race, poverty, politics, religion and human nature.

Butler began writing at age 10, and said she embraced science fiction after seeing a schlocky B-movie called “Devil Girl from Mars” and thought, “I can write a better story than that.”

Her first novel, “Kindred,” in 1979, featured a black woman who travels back in time to the South to save a white man. She went on to write about a dozen books, plus numerous essays and short stories. Her most recent work, “Fledgling,” an examination of the “Dracula” legend, was published last fall.

She received many awards, and in 1995 Butler was the first science fiction writer granted a “genius” award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which paid $295,000 over five years.