The daughter of a shoeshiner and a maid, Octavia Butler grew up reading the books her mother brought home from the white people’s houses she cleaned. Though dyslexic, Butler started writing science fiction as a teenager and published her first story at the age of twenty-four. She went on to be the first science fiction author to receive a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and was recognized with the lifetime achievement award from the PEN American Center.
Butler’s breakout novel, Kindred, uses time travel to expose the impact of human bondage American style. Kindred’s black protagonist, Dana, is involuntarily transported from 1976 onto an early-nineteenth-century Maryland plantation. Dana arrives just in time to rescue a white boy, Rufus Weylin, from drowning in a river. With the immediate danger to Rufus averted, Dana is returned to her present time, soon realizing that she will be continually and uncontrollably summoned to protect Rufus. His fate is to survive and rape a slave girl, Alice, who will birth Hagar, Dana’s foremother. During Dana’s longer visits to the nineteenth century, she is forced into slavery and suffers its tortures.