Octavia Butler Manifesto
Handwritten notes on inside cover of one of Octavia E. Butler’s commonplace books, 1988. Octavia E. Butler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

It’s just a short note she wrote on the inside cover of her journal. It probably took her all of a few minutes to write. She simply casts a vision of what her life would look like moving forward. It is a clear, concise and powerful little reminder of what we need to be doing for ourselves. But before we go any further, we need to talk about who Octavia Butler was and what exactly she has done.

An award winning science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, started writing when she was just 12. She had just finished watching a movie that left her a little disappointed, and so she decided that she herself could write better stories. Octavia went on to become the first black woman to gain such considerable prominence in her genre, winning two Hugo Awards from the World Science Fiction Society, two Nebula Awards from the Science Fiction Writers of America, and was the first science fiction writer to have won a MacArthur Fellowship a.k.a. “Genius Grant” in 1995.

As you would imagine, Octavia was able to amass quite the collection of work. Thankfully she had the wherewithal to save just about everything she’d ever written and left her library to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens after her death. It has taken a considerable amount of time to catalog Octavia’s literary genius but it has quickly become the most frequently used archive as researchers and scholars seek to study Octavia’s life and writing process. It is within that archive that we find ourselves inspired by her perseverance and unwavering belief in what she was going to do with her life. Here’s what Octavia has taught us about manifesting our dreams.

It is never too late to start dreaming!
We all know how life gets in the way of living, and sometimes we get distracted or thrown off course. Often we can get complacent, if not content, and kind of just stall out or grow stagnant for one reason or another. Maybe we think we got further than we expected and decide to be happy with that. Octavia wrote these “goals” several years after she was published. Meaning, she was already experiencing quite the success. Rather than just sit back and put her feet up, she raised the bar. Without hesitation, without pomp or explanation, she simply states what she wants, what she will be working towards.

There is no room to be embarrassed.
Do you know who you are? Do you know your worth? This is a woman who knew exactly her ability and talent. Octavia embodied the realization of what can happen when talent meets with perseverance, and she makes no apologies for that. As women we often tend to think we should be shrinking violets as though being confident and trusting in ourselves is as bad thing. Octavia shows us that there is a certain security in knowing who we are and what we are working with. That means the good bad and even ugly about ourselves. We should make no apologies for striving always to be our best, and continuing to grow into that. That is a reward unto itself.

Affirmations. Positive inner dialog is necessity.
Every day we are devalued by being told what we are doing wrong. From what we look like to what we say, what we do to how we behave. There is always some kind of scrutiny and criticism. Much of that is also self imposed. That means that if we are not careful, our inner dialog can cripple us before we ever get out of bed in the morning. Somewhere along the road we get it into our heads that we should be [insert goal] and when we fall short we berate ourselves. Part of the aforementioned point is also accepting our shortcomings with grace. I am certain that Octavia made a mistake or two on her journey. We need to allow ourselves the same grace we would show our sister or best friend. Remind yourself of your worth and keeping your goals in front of you. I mean, she wrote this manifesto on the inside cover of her notebook. I wonder how many times she went back to read it and had to regain her focus. Standing confident. Knowing who we are and loving ourselves all the more for it is necessary.

I simply love that statement. I have uttered the same words, but not for the same reasons. Octavia doesn’t just throw her hands up declaring “This is my life” either for the struggles she faced or the success she experienced. She considered what she wanted her life to be down the road. She claims those things for the right now. Octavia realized a key piece of dreaming that most people miss. She didn’t just sit around waiting to become what she would need to be for this future she envisioned. She recognized the need to be those things NOW in order to claim her future. She takes pride in her life being her responsibility. She places no blame and no responsibility on anyone other than herself. Perhaps liberating her to this freedom in speaking such power into her own life, and claiming what she has rightfully earned.

Your dream should be the destination.
Whatever your dream, whatever your goal, Octavia writes “I will find the way to do this.” That means that she chose her destination, not giving concern to how she would get there. It makes me wonder, how many times have we made a choice based on what it would cost us to get there. Do we make it a habit to shy away from greatness because we are too lazy, scared, shy, uncertain to do the work required of us to be great?

So be it! See to it!
What an incredibly insightful statement. Think about it, she says so be it. As though she is going to let the chips fall where they may. As if to allow herself forgiveness should she not get everything listed, forgiveness without giving herself the option to fail. Because then she goes on to “see to it.” Meaning, she will be doing her part of making these thing come to fruition. While she is claiming these things for herself, she’s not leaving anything to chance either, she continued to work very hard, and press forward.

Dreaming big, paints a bigger picture.
With much success also comes much responsibility. Octavia, in all of her drive and purpose, never forgets where she came from. Her father passed away when she was very young. Her mother worked hard as a maid to provide for her. Octavia recalls having to watch her mother enter her clients homes through the back door. She remembers her journey and makes a point to honor that by sharing her success with others and sharing her love of writing. Giving of ourselves can be a crucial part of our growth; it keeps us humble. It also can fill us up when the world has taken its toll. Remembering where we come from or recognizing that all we have is finite, gives us a better understanding and appreciation for the work that we have put in and the whatever bit we have. Besides what does it mean to gain the whole world if you don’t have anyone to share it with?

When first reading Octavia’s private note to herself, I was struck by the sheer power of her words. I was excited for her to have aimed so bravely for the top. This is proof of the wisdom Octavia had to take the time to not just say these words but to write them down, (more than likely) refer to them often, and keep them at the forefront of her vision. Let this be an example to us. Words have power. Whatever words we allow in and speak into our lives become our reality. What will you choose to believe about yourself today? Tomorrow?

You decide your worth and power. Octavia did exactly that, and she accomplished he dreams because she knew she was enough.

Be Bold. Be Brave. Be you!

— Tiffanie Lathan

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