Kindred is science fiction writer Octavia Butler’s most famous work. A genre-bending novel, it includes explorations time travel, antebellum slavery, and feminism, told in gripping and immediate prose. It has been referred to as a work of speculative fiction or a neo-slave narrative as well. It is famed for its insights into slavery, gender roles, trauma, American history, and more.
The well-known anecdote behind the book’s origins is that Butler, who was active in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, began working on the book in college as a response to a young black man in the movement who criticized his ancestors for having a “slave mentality” through their “humility” and not doing enough to push for their freedom. In Kindred Butler endeavors to show what slavery was like and what sort of resistance was possible. She also stated that she wanted to show that women like her mother, who did domestic work for white families in Pasadena, were not timid or cowardly but rather heroes in their own way.
She conducted research for the book in Maryland, and visited Mt. Vernon, which was the only plantation she could access. She read slave narratives for research as well, but admitted having to “clean up” some of the extensive violence and depravity of slavery for her own novel to make sure it could attract an audience.
Butler initially had difficulty finding a publisher, for the novel’s amalgamation of science fiction and an antebellum historical context crisscrossed too many genres.
The book garnered positive critical attention as well as popularity amongst the general reading public. It was republished in 1988 as part of the Beacon Black Women Writers series and again in 2004 for its 25th anniversary. To date, over 450,000 copies are in print. It is often assigned in college classes and is a favorite in book clubs.