Part 7 of Joy and Tranquillity digital guide

Laurie Britton Newell describes Octavia E. Butler’s notes

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In this case there are two note pages that the American writer Octavia E Butler wrote to herself. They give some insight into the feelings, aspirations and struggles she had within her career and personal life.

They were handwritten by Butler with different-colour pens, on different-sized paper. Certain words and sentences have been highlighted in contrasting colours and they jump from the page.

One page taken from a spiral notebook – she wrote in the late Seventies -  is full of statements of self-encouragement.

She starts with “I shall be a bestselling writer” and goes on to mention which newspapers she wants to be on bestselling lists of. Further down the page she lists the things that she would like to do with the money from her books. She writes:

“I will help poor black youngsters to go to college” and “I will get the best healthcare for my mother and myself”.

The closing sentences are a sort of mantra that’s repeated and underlined throughout the text: “So be it! See to it!” Writing these motivational and affirming notes were part of a lifelong practice she had, willing something from thinking into being.

In 2020, 14 years after her death, she reached the New York Times bestseller list for her book ‘Parable of the Sower’.

The second note in this case is more succinct. It sets out her overarching goal as a writer; it is a written in green, blue and red pen:

“Tell stories filled with facts.

Make people touch and taste and know.

Make people feel! Feel! Feel!”

About the speaker

Photograph of Laurie Britton Newell

Laurie Britton Newell

Laurie Britton Newell is a senior curator at Wellcome Collection and co-curator of the ‘Joy’ and ‘Tranquillity’ exhibitions, part of the season ‘On Happiness’ (2021), and she curated the exhibition ‘Somewhere in Between’ (2018). She previously ran a rural curatorial platform in the USA and taught at the University of Colorado. Prior to that she worked as a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she curated critically acclaimed exhibitions such as ‘Memory Palace’ (2013), ‘Make Lab’ (2011), ‘1:1: Architects Build Small Spaces’ (2010) and ‘Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft’ (2008). She writes about contemporary creative practice for books, magazines and newspapers.