In several interviews, Octavia Butler has acknowledged that a series of family and life experiences influenced her novel Kindred. Butler’s grandmother was a slave who chopped sugar cane, and did the laundry of her family as well as the white family whom she worked for. Butler spent a great deal of her childhood feeling ashamed that her mother was a housemaid. She also resented her mother for allowing her employers to treat her like dirt, talking to her like she was less than a human being. As she grew older, Butler realized that her mother endured all that disrespect in order to provide for her. This, in turn, inspired her to write a series of female characters—Alice, Sarah, and Dana—whose capacity of endurance and sacrifice in the face of exploitation is heroic. Butler’s work experiences also helped her develop the protagonist of the novel, Dana. Just like Butler, Dana works at a number of jobs--”from blue collar to low grade white collar, clerk typist”—while struggling to become a published writer. Like Dana, when work is hard to come by, Butler goes home, bakes a solitary potato for her daily meal and keeps on writing.
Most importantly, Butler wrote Kindred as a reaction to an impassioned statement from a young man involved in black consciousness rising, who, ashamed of the humility and subservience older generations of African Americans, considered them traitors to their people and wished he could kill them all. Butler disagreed with this view. From her personal experience, what older generations of African Americans had endured had to be put into historical context to be fully understood as the silent, courageous resistance that it was. She then decided to create a present-day character and send her (originally it was a him) back to slavery to explore how hard it would be for a modern person to survive in such harsh conditions. As she explains in a 2004 interview with Allison Keyes, she “set out to make people feel history.”
Butler’s field research in Maryland also influenced her writing of Kindred. She traveled to the Eastern Shore to Talbot County where she wandered a bit with little money and spent some time at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and the Maryland Historical Society. She also went on a tour of Mount Vernon, the home of America's first president, George Washington. This was the closest she could get to a plantation. On this tour, guides referred to the slaves as “servants” and avoided referring to the fact that the visitors were touring an old slave plantation. Butler also spent time reading emancipatory narratives, one of them being the slave narrative of Fredrick Douglass. Some of the facts she learned from these narratives were so grim that she realized that, in order to get people to read Kindred, she could not come close to presenting slavery as it was but had to clean it up.