“Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler” by Ibi Zoboi Review: Special

Octavia Estelle Butler, best known to many as the granddame of science fiction and receiver of the Macarthur Fellowship, was born June 1947 and died way too soon at the age of 58, February 24, 2006. From a young age this engaging Black woman was relentless in her craft. From watching a science fiction film she knew that she could write it better, to making vision notes to herself about becoming a bestselling author, Butler knew what she was about. Ibi Zoboi who like many fans of Butler’s work read several of her books. A kindred spirit who was born on the same day as Butler, though years apart Zoboi, also a writer in the same genre gives tribute by writing a mixture of narrative and poetry as biography.

Zoboi’s blend of “Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler” is arguably based on what Butler said in an interview about poetry being the most accessible way of understanding a theory or idea. Poetry made Butler focus on each word and tease out meaning of what they meant. Zoboi expertly takes aspects of Butler’s life that many may have heard before and wrote them in poem form. In order to give a timeline Zoboi chapters each section by showcasing what influenced Butler. Being raised by her mother and grandmother, her father dying before she was 5, being a slow reader and not doing well in school recalls Butler’s childhood. In poems Zoboi constructs Butler’s upbringing, influences and beginnings of her writing career. There’s also within each chapter past interviews with Butler where she discusses ideas in direct relationship to what is being talked about, whether it’s about the writing process or why the choice to write science-fiction. In the chapter “The Good Book” Zoboi asks “What if?” and a flood of ideas of how Butler would’ve written the hell out of Marvel’s Silver Surfer or any other galactic comic-book since the themes of her novels feels so much in-tune with these otherworldly characters, rooted on the ideas of what it means to be human. One of the notable poems are “Space” and “Race” which mirror each other and are major themes that are in Butler’s novels. Each poem starts and ends nearly the same way with “Bombs” and “from each other.” Essentially this book showcases why Octavia E Butler, who was named by her mother, Octavia Sr. reflects everything that has embodied her. 

The last chapter “Kindred” brings us to a personal perspective of the woman who shows how Butler never had a chance to finish her own story. Zoboi relates to the reader that as a young Black woman having first read “Parable of the Sower” on a friends recommendation, barreled through all Butler’s other books. Here there was a kinship. Though Zoboi didn’t read science fiction as a child, she found Butler’s stories were much like the stories she herself had written, particularly in her college creative writing courses. You feel the sense of loss of how Butler had so much more to give and so many more stories left in her soul. Zoboi sharing her knowledge of Butler is a gift to her fans, present and future.

About Donna-Lyn Washington 634 Articles
Donna-lyn Washington has a M.A. in English from Brooklyn College. She is currently teaching at Kingsborough Community College where her love of comics and pop culture play key parts in helping her students move forward in their academic careers. As a senior writer for ReviewFix she has been able to explore a variety of worlds through comics, film and television and has met some interesting writers and artists along the way. Donna-lyn does a weekly podcast reviewing indie comics and has also contributed entries to the 'Encyclopedia of Black Comics,’ the academic anthology ‘Critical Insights: Frank Yerby’ and is the editor for the upcoming book, ‘Conversations With: John Jennings.’

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