James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Can’t You Hear Me?

Octavia E. Butler: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations

By Octavia E. Butler 

11 Aug, 2023

Doing the WFC's Homework


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

2023’s Octavia E. Butler: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations is a collection of interviews by various interviewers with the late author Octavia E. Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006). Octavia E. Butler: The Last Interview is part of Melville House’s Last Interview series. The collection includes an introduction by Samuel R. Delany.

The editor is not listed anywhere that I can see. As far as I can tell, Melville House is the name of the publisher, not the name of the editor. The absence of specific credit is a pity because whoever the editor or editors are, they’ve provided readers with a diverting array of interviews with Butler.

Not only are the interviewers a diverse lot, the interviews range from 1979, very early in Butler’s career to 2006, close to her death. Consequently, the interviews provide insight into how Butler evolved over her career and in what ways she remained consistent. Not only that, they reveal how she was perceived by the interviewers … something that evolved over the course of her too-short career.

I was upset to realize that the interviewers seemed to assume that Butler was the only black woman writing SF. This might have been true in 1979 (although I suspect it wasn’t), but it certainly was not true later on.

The questions posed by interviewers often illuminate the interviewers as much as they do the interviewee. Rosalie G. Harrison’s There seems to be a widespread opinion that Blacks have had their day. Do you see the same happening to the women’s movements?” certainly caught my attention, as did Kenen’s interestingly worded assertion that Butler was exploring the idea of miscegenation on many different levels.”

One can come away from the interviews with a sense Butler was profoundly pessimistic. That’s true to an extent but as this quote

No, I think the future of humanity will be like the past; we’ll do what we’ve always done and there will still be human beings. 

shows, at least she thought there would still be humans, which makes her more optimistic than a lot of SF authors.

Draft one of this review featured notable quotations from specific interviews. The review grew so long, because so much was quotable, that I decided that this approach was untenable [1].

I learned so much from the interviews. For instance, that Doubleday only paid $1750 (about $7400 in current USD) for her early books. I was also reminded of something I had known and forgotten: there’s an early Butler story caught up in Last Dangerous Visions hell. The collection was so illuminating that I shut the book wishing it had been much longer.

Octavia E. Butler: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

I am not going to do an interview-by-interview review but I will at least list them:

Introduction” by Samuel R. Delany

Thrust Interview” (1979) by Jeffrey Elliott (Thrust No. 121979)

Equal Opportunity Forum interview” by Rosalie G. Harrison (Equal Opportunity Forum Magazine, Vol. 8 No. 21980)

An Interview with Octavia E. Butler” (1991) by Randall Kenan (Callaloo, Vol. 14 No. 21991)

There Isn’t Anything I Can’t Do in Science Fiction” by Terry Gross Fresh Air / National Public Radio, 1993)

We Keep Playing the Same Record” (1996) by Stephen W. Potts (Science Fiction Studies, 23.31996)

Possible Futures,” by Cecilia Tan (Sojourner, 1999)

Watching The Story Happen” by Darrell Schweitzer (Interzone 186, April 2002)

I’ve Always Been an Outsider” Interview by Joshunda Sanders (Inmotion Magazine, February 2004)

Interviewing The Oracle” by Kazembe Balagun (The Indypendent, January 132006)

The Last Interview” by Jen Chau Fontán (Addicted to Race, January 302006)

1: OK, I cannot resist this one quotation, from the Gross interview:

It’s more like India with whole families living camped out on the street, and it’s so ordinary, so unremarkable, that nobody pays any attention.

There’s an encampment just like that in Kitchener. Local government does not seem interested in addressing the cause, only finding ways to drive the homeless out of sight.