Octavia E. Butler’s work is as relevant as ever, and her journey to success is a surprising and mostly private one—until now. Author and award-winning Alta contributor Lynell George’s extraordinary new book, A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, examines Butler’s most intimate processes and inspirations. George sits down with Alta books editor David L. Ulin to explore the work, legacy, and world of Octavia E. Butler in this free digital discussion.
Talking with Lynell George: A Q&A with David L. Ulin: READ
About the author
Lynell George is a journalist and essayist. After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame was her first book of essays and photography, exploring the city where she grew up. As a staff writer for both the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly, she focused on social issues, human behavior, visual arts, music, and literature. She’s taught journalism at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, was named a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow in 2013, and received the Huntington Library’s Alan Jutzi Fellowship in 2017 for her studies of Butler. She’s a contributing arts and culture columnist for KCET | Artbound, and her commentary has also been featured in numerous news and feature outlets, including Alta, Boom: A Journal of California, Smithsonian, KPCC’s the Frame, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Vibe, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, Essence, Black Clock, and Ms. Her liner notes for Otis Redding Live at the Whisky a Go Go earned a Grammy Award in 2017.
About the book
More than a biography, A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler is a collection of ideas about how a writer looks, listens, and breathes—how to be in the world. This book is about the creative process, but not on the page; its canvas is much larger. Lynell George not only engages the world that shaped Octavia E. Butler, but explores the very specific processes through which Butler, a MacArthur “genius,” shaped herself—her unique process of self-making. It’s about creating a life with what little you have—hand-me-down books, repurposed diaries, journals, stealing time to write in the middle of the night, making a small check stretch—bit by bit by bit. A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky draws the reader into Butler’s world, creating a sense of unmatched intimacy with the deeply private science-fiction writer.
There has been a great resurgence of interest in Butler’s work. Readers have been turning to her writing to make sense of contemporary chaos, to find a plot point that might bring clarity or calm. Her books have become the centerpiece of book group discussions, while universities and entire cities have chosen her titles to anchor Big Read, Freshman Read, and One Book/One City programs. A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky brings Butler’s prescient wisdom and careful thinking out of the novel and into the world.
A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky will be beloved by both scholars and fans of Butler, as well as aspiring writers and creatives who are looking for a model or a spark of inspiration. It offers an album of a creative life—a map that others can follow. Butler once wrote that science fiction was simply “a handful of earth, a handful of sky, and everything in between.” This book offers a slice of the in between.