What to Read After You’ve Loved Octavia E. Butler
So you love Octavia E. Butler. We get it. We love her too.
But now what?
You’ve read Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979), and you loved the time travel plot that wove seamlessly with slave narratives of the pre-Civil War South. You’ve read Fledgling (2005) too, or maybe you enjoyed Butler’s other shorter fiction like “Bloodchild,” her novelette which won the Nebula and Hugo Awards in 1985. Perhaps the current political climate had you racing towards her dystopian novels Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998), which presented a view of the future that includes environmental horrors, walls erected around the middle class, and a terrifying fundamentalist leader whose rally cry is “Help Us to Make America Great Again.”
If you’ve enjoyed reading Butler’s fiction, we have some other writers whose work you should add to your reading list.
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (2016)
Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad follows the escape of Cora and fellow slave Caesar as they flee the plantation in Georgia where Cora grew up. Whitehead re-imagines the Underground Railroad and its conductors as an actual train underground with hidden stations, lending a fantastic element to a novel grounded in the actual horrors of slavery and the experiences of runaways.
Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, and you might have been assigned the novel in school. But if you haven’t read it yet, and Kindred is one of your favorite books by Butler, then you need to add this to your TBR. Morrison crafts a ghost story to represent the reality of an enslaved woman’s life, including the horrors that would have been edited out of nineteenth-century slave narratives. For her characters, forgetting the past isn’t an option, and it shouldn’t be for readers either.
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel (2019)
Like Butler’s Kindred, which was adapted into a graphic novel in 2017, Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) was recently reimagined in graphic novel form. The book examines a society where women are enslaved and forced to breed, a theme which would resonate with fans of Butler’s story “Bloodchild,” in which men are subjected to reproductive horrors. Of course, Atwood’s vision of the future run by a fundamentalist religious group will remind readers of Butler’s Parable novels.
Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God (2017)
For more dystopian fare, readers may want to check out Erdrich’s The Future Home of the Living God. Erdrich imagines a future world undergoing a reproductive apocalypse. Babies are changing, and a reactionary government begins to track women and control their pregnancies. The Ojibwe main character, Cedar Hawk Songmaker, is one of these pregnant women on the run. Fans of Butler’s Parable duology will recognize the changes Cedar sees in her crumbling society.
Tananarive Due, My Soul to Keep (1997)
Due is a force of nature as a writer, and any horror fan needs her books on the bookshelf. Her My Soul to Keep is the first novel in the African Immortals series, about a young wife thrown into a world of immortal beings and an epic battle of good and evil. Due’s immortals are from long-ago Nigeria and share characteristics with Butler’s Ina, the vampire-like race of creatures in her novel Fledgling.
Jewelle Gomez, The Gilda Stories (1991)
Gomez won a Lambda Literary Award for this novel centered on an African-American lesbian vampire named Gilda. Gilda begins her journey as a runaway slave, who is helped, after her initial escape, by two women, one Native American and the other white. These women initiate her into a community of vampires who are very different from your typical terrifying blood-suckers. Rather than purely victimizing humans as a food source, most of these vampires try to co-exist peacefully. And they also deal with all the possibilities and perils of an immortal life.
Lisa Kröger holds a PhD in English. Her stort fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine and Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road (Crystal Lake Publishing, 2018).Melanie R. Anderson is an assistant professor of English at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. Her book Spectrality in the Novels of Toni Morrison (Tennesee Press, 2013) was a winner of the 2014 South Central MLA Book Prize.