Octavia E. Butler

Illustrated by James E. Ransome

Introduced by Tananarive Due

The past becomes a deadly leash in Octavia E. Butler’s remarkable science-fiction thriller Kindred. This special Folio Society edition features work by award-winning artist James E. Ransome.

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Octavia E. Butler is one of the most important figures in speculative fiction history; a pioneering African–American author who won multiple awards and changed the very foundations of the genre. Kindred is perhaps her most iconic novel, a ground-breaking time-travel thriller that plunges its heroine into pre-Civil War America, challenging the reader to witness the horrors of slavery. For this edition, celebrated artist James E. Ransome was commissioned to provide a series of emotive illustrations and a beautifully simple binding design. In her exclusive introduction, author and journalist Tananarive Due draws on interviews with Butler to take a deeper look at this essential novel, and the questions it raises about history, guilt and survival.

Production Details

Bound in blocked paper

Set in Columbus

296 pages

Frontispiece and 6 colour illustrations, including 1 double-page spread

Printed slipcase

9½˝ x 6¼˝ 

Bound in blood and trapped in history

I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm

In 1976 Dana Franklin is an aspiring writer, living with her white husband in Los Angeles. In 1815 Dana is a slave, her life as brutal and precarious as any black woman in the antebellum South…

Again and again Dana is ripped back through time to save the life of Rufus Weylin, the son of a wealthy slave owner in Maryland. For reasons neither of them can understand, their lives are inexplicably bound to each other in blood and pain, and Dana’s decisions, trapped in a past where she is considered little more than property, will have far-reaching consequences for her and her own ancestors.

An Attempt to understand the unthinkable

‘A shattering work of art’

  1. Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

While at college, Butler reportedly overhead another African–American student angrily criticising previous generations of black men and women for being subservient to the whites who claimed to own them. This became the seed of an idea that would lead to Kindred – an attempt to understand the unthinkable, to place supposed subservience in the context of desperate survival. 

Butler takes care to immerse the reader in the details of the past until pre-Civil War Maryland feels more vivid and real than the potentially more familiar Los Angeles of the late 1970s. But this is much more than an immersive historical novel. With each snap back to the present Dana barely has time to breathe, let alone heal, and neither does the reader. Kindred is at its heart a gripping time-travel thriller, one that uses the uniquely agonising dilemmas of Dana’s situation to ask the bigger questions: how much history do we carry with us into the future? What do we owe the past? And what are the consequences of the worst acts of human barbarity? With elegant prose and an unflinching lack of sentimentality, Butler peels back the borders of science fiction to reveal new, uncomfortable horizons.

Illustrating the past and present

James E. Ransome is a critically acclaimed American illustrator. His warm, evocative watercolour images will be familiar to children and adults alike all over the world. Ransome was born in North Carolina and grew up in the rural South, and recently illustrated Before She Was Harriet, the award-winning picture book that celebrates the life of Harriet Tubman, the woman who led hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. For this edition, Ransome has created seven colour illustrations. His beautiful, sensitive images bring a dignity and a sense of quiet hope to a harrowing narrative. The slipcase is printed with the doubled image of a face, a nod to Dana’s dual lives in the past and present, and the unbreakable link between her and her troubled ancestor, Alice.

Science fiction born of social upheaval

Tananarive Due is an award-winning author and journalist, and daughter of the civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due. In her powerful introduction, written exclusively for this edition, Due examines the continuing relevance of Kindred in an age where the scars of slavery in the United States are still all too clear. Drawing on her interview with the author in 2000, Due reveals Butler’s own complex feelings on writing such a personal, visceral novel. As a science-fiction writer in the 1960s, Butler was often accused of devoting herself to an ‘unserious’ genre at a time of great social upheaval – how could novels about fantastical situations be relevant to the civil rights movement? With Kindred, Butler shows exactly how relevant science fiction can be, using the tools of the genre to bring the horrors of slavery closer than ever. As Due writes in her introduction, it is a book that ‘feels more like truth than fiction’.

About Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler was born in California in 1947. As a teenager Butler attended the Clarion workshop in Milford, Pennsylvania, and it was here that she was first encouraged to write science fiction. Butler’s first novel, Patternmaster (1976), became part of a five-volume collection including Mind of My Mind (1977) and Wild Seed (1980). Butler wrote 15 novels in total, as well as several short stories and essays. Her best-known works include Kindred (1979) and Bloodchild (1984), which won both a Nebula and Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Butler received international acclaim for most of her stories, many of which examine issues around race and gender through the lens of science fiction. In 1995, Butler became the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship award. Later in her life Butler began to teach writing, including at the Clarion workshop where she first studied. In 2005 she was inducted into the International Black Writers Hall of Fame at Chicago State University. Butler died in Seattle in 2006.

About Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due, born in Florida, is an American author and educator. She received a BS in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, and an MA in English and Nigerian Literature from the University of Leeds. Due’s books include The Between (1995), The Good House (2003) and My Soul To Take (2011). Due has won numerous awards for her writing, including an American Book Award and a British Fantasy Award. She now teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA.

About James E. Ransome

James E. Ransome was born in North Carolina. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Pratt Institute, New York. Mentored by Jerry Pinkney, Ransome went on to specialise in illustrating children’s books. He has illustrated more than 60 acclaimed picture books written by numerous authors, including many by his wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome. Three-times winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for his book illustrations, Ransome has also exhibited his work in group and solo shows across the United States. His work features in public and private collections of children’s book art, and his commissioned murals appear in The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinatti. Ransome was among the artists selected to create posters for the Metro-North Railroad series on the New York City subway.


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