REVIEW: “Positive Obsession” by Octavia E. Butler

Review of Octavia E. Butler, “Positive Obsession”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 163-169 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

In the review of the anthology as a whole, I said the essays “are like written kaffeeklatsches with people you feel you could be friends with”, and nowhere does this feel more true than with Butler’s essay, a quiet reflection on her life and growth of a writer, and on the central importance of positive obsession:

Positive obsession is about not being able to stop just because you’re afraid and full of doubts. Positive obsession is dangerous. It’s about not being able to stop at all (p. 168).

There’s no advice here, but one cannot help but learn from simply seeing someone else’s story of perseverance.

It’s also fascinating to see how things have changed since 1989. At the time this essay was writing, Butler was the only Black woman writing SF, and one of only four Black SF authors. How she would have loved to see the state of the genre today, with the likes of Jemisin, Okorafor, and Adeyemi writing at the top of the SF game, and the existence of entire anthologies to Afrofuturism.

(Originally published as “Birth of a Writer”, Essence, 1989.)