Why I’m Against Octavia E. Butler for the WFA

I don’t think that Octavia E. Butler should take H.P. Lovecraft’s place as the World Fantasy Award. I feel treacherous for even typing those words but here they are: I do not think that Octavia E. Butler should replace H.P. Lovecraft as the “face” of the WFA.

I love Octavia E. Butler. I found her work as a strange black girl in a time before the internet could show me that there were other strange black girls out there. I, quite literally, picked up her books from around the world, squealing with delight when I found one. I wept over the news of her death. Over all the stories that she would never be able to tell.

I recommend her work to everyone that will listen, steering them past Kindred and the Parable duology, the only two works that that mainstream seems to know of hers. I remark on how sad it is that a writer who created such dazzling speculative works is most known for writing about slavery. Time travel is involved, yes, but it seems cliché that that would be the book considering that so much of bibliography is much better, so much weirder.

So it may surprise you, dear reader, as it surprises me that the petition to change the bust from H.P. Lovecraft to an author who is beloved to me, was met with not joy and immediate reblogging of the petition for such a change but with balk. I couldn’t quite place why at first but then it became clear.

Octavia E. Butler is not equal to H.P. Lovecraft.

Which isn’t to say that her work is not powerful and in many cases far more well written than the offerings of a man who is by many considered one of, if not the, father of modern horror. By all accounts, Lovecraft’s prose has been ripped apart by critics and in many cases found lacking. On that scale, Butler far outshines Lovecraft. Hands down, no questions asked.

On the scale of what they stood for, well, Lovecraft was a well-known racist. Not even in the sense of “It was just that time period, everyone was racist then,” sort of way that we excuse old people when they say something off color over dinner. He was openly racist and his prejudice shows in his work. This isn’t an argument, this is fact. Accepting this award is problematic for many writers because of this. How does one reconcile the history of the figure with the present?

I do believe that especially considering that fact that Lovecraft should be removed and another writer put into his place if another writer is to be used. Someone who represents what the World Fantasy Award stands for, not so one whose personal darkness is intertwined with his soul like the tentacles of an elder god.

But Butler, for all that I love about her does not have the same standing as Lovecraft when it comes to notoriety. Butler is well known by people who read, really read, science fiction. This is not the case with Lovecraft.

Lovecraft’s work has spread to influence other writers, comics, film, etc. Lovecraft is everywhere in speculative fiction and although I would love to see Butler’s work held in the same regard because she truly deserves it, it is not and therefore does not meet Lovecraft on the scale which was clearly used to choose him.

If it had simply been about being a strong writer and not an overt racist then there are plenty of other authors they could have chosen. But he won out. His influence is strong and I don’t think Butler can match that.

I do believe that his face should be removed from the award and iconic as it is, perhaps it is time to go with something more representative. Speculative fiction has evolved and features parts from all genres, all histories. Can it be best represented by one figure? I don’t think so. I think it’s time to move away from that and into something completely new.

As much as I love Octavia E. Butler, as highly as I think of her work, I do not believe that she is a good choice for representation. It kills me to say that but she is not Lovecraft. Lovecraft doesn’t deserve the honor either but the solution is not to turn to someone who is their polar opposite simply because they are the opposite.

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