By Octavia E. Butler
Why this book?
I struggled over which of Octavia Butler’s books to include in this list. Her Xenogenesis trilogy (currently published as Lilith’s Brood) was a strong contender, given the deft way in which she used the series to challenge social hierarchies of race, gender, and sexuality. In the end, however, I had to go with Kindred. For one thing, it involves time travel, and as a former history professor that tends to be my favorite subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, both as a reader and as a writer.
Kindred was also the first book of Butler’s that I read, back when I was still in my late teens and still very much a product of my white, Southern upbringing. We learned of the horrors of slavery in history textbooks, but we were also taught the myth of the happy slave. Gone With the Wind was generally acclaimed as an accurate portrayal of the antebellum South by the adults in my community.
While I had already begun to reject those views, Kindred gave me the opportunity to see slavery through the eyes of a contemporary Black woman who suddenly finds herself in the past, facing brutality and inhumanity at the hands of a slaveowner she cannot kill without unraveling her own existence. It was an eye-opening read and one that I still remember vividly.
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