Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an American author of science fiction. In the white male-dominated genre of science fiction, she broke ground not only as a woman, but as an African-American. In her New York Times obituary, she was described as “an internationally acclaimed science fiction writer whose evocative, often troubling novels explore far-reaching issues of race, sex, power, and ultimately, what it meant to be human.”
Born in Pasadena, CA, Butler’s father died when she was an infant. Raised by her single mother, Butler was a painfully shy child, and always exceedingly tall for her age. She also struggled with dyslexia, which made schoolwork a torture. She began to believe that she was, as she put it, “ugly and stupid, clumsy, and socially hopeless.”
Her dyslexia was no barrier to developing a love for books and stories. She started to write her own stories at age ten after begging her mother to get her a Remington typewriter. She was drawn to science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories, whose contents spoke of wondrous possibility and unlimited imagination. Read More→
Grace Metalious (September 8, 1924 – February 25, 1964) was an author remembered for her sensational novel Peyton Place, which caused outrage in the 1950s, but went on to become one of the biggest selling books of all time. Of French-Canadian ancestry, she was born Marie Grace De Repentigny in Manchester, New Hampshire. Her parents separated when she was ten.
At the age of 18 she married George Metalious (1925-2015) who came from a Greek family. and they had three children. After World War II army service, George became a teacher, but Grace wasn’t the perfect faculty wife and displayed rebellious tendencies.
She freely admitted to being a lazy housewife and not a very good mother. More comfortable in denim jeans and shirts, she showed no interest in conforming to the 1950s ideal woman. “I did not like belonging to clubs,” she later wrote. “I did not like being regarded as a freak because I spent time in front of a typewriter instead of a sink. And George did not like my not liking the things I was supposed to like.” Read More→
Margaret Wise Brown (May 23, 1910 – November 13, 1952) was a prolific American author and editor of children’s books, best known for Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. She grew up in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, the middle of three children of an unhappy marriage.
Margaret graduated from Hollins College in Virginia in 1932 with a B.A. in English. She began teaching at the progressive Bank Street School in New York City, and within a few years began writing books for children. Her first was When the Wind Blew, published in 1937 by Harper & Bros. One of Margaret’s literary influences was Gertrude Stein. In fact, when she herself became an editor, she recruited Ms. Stein to write The World is Round. Read More→
Betty MacDonald (March 26, 1908 – February 7, 1958) was an American author of humorous semi-autobiographical stories and children’s books. Born Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard in Boulder, Colorado, her father Darsie Bard was an itinerant mining engineer and the family moved constantly until finally settling in Laurelhurst, Seattle, Washington, in 1916. When Darsie died suddenly in 1920, the family was left to cope with severe financial problems that were only alleviated when Betty hit the publishing jackpot with her first book, The Egg and I in 1945.
This was based on her experiences as a young bride on a chicken farm in the Olympic Peninsula’s Chimacum Valley. She had married Robert Eugene Heskett (1895-1951) in 1927, but left him in 1931 to return to Seattle where she worked at several jobs to support herself and her two daughters, Anne and Joan. Read More→
Djuna Barnes (June 12, 1892– June 18, 1982) was an American writer who became well-known in the Parisian avant-garde literary scene of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, Barnes attended Pratt Institute and the Art Students League of New York. Starting in 1913, she wrote and illustrated for newspapers and magazines, both literary and popular (including Smart Set and Vanity Fair).
Barnes’ first book-length work was The Book of Repulsive Women: 8 Rhythms and 5 Drawings in 1915. It was brief, hardly more than a chapbook. Over the next few years, she wrote plays, a few of which were staged by the Provincetown Players in Cape Cod.
Off to Literary Paris
1920 was the year she left for Paris. Continuing as a journalist, she interviewed expatriate writers and artists. Continuing to pursue her own writing, she established herself as a literary figure in her own right, producing plays, short stories, and poems. Ladies Almanack (1928) was something of a breakout, a satire of the literary lesbian scene of which she was a part, and of which Natalie Barney was a central figure.