As host and executive producer of the classic children's show "Reading Rainbow," LeVar Burton has become a literary hero for countless young readers. Burton recently chatted with HuffPost Live about the show, his varied entertainment career, and his wildly popular Kickstarter campaign to reboot "Reading Rainbow" as a web series -- and along the way, he had the chance to talk about a literary hero of his own.
In response to a question about which author he would be most excited to have a Skype conversation with, Burton barely hesitated before naming the legendary science-fiction writer Octavia Butler. Butler, who died in 2006, was an award-winning and celebrated author who penned such sci-fi classics as Kindred and the Xenogenesis trilogy. A black woman who was hugely successful in a predominantly white, male genre, Butler often explored challenging themes such as racism, sex, and slavery in her work.
In describing Butler's importance to him, Burton noted that seeing her depictions of black characters in sci-fi settings was refreshing to him as a reader. "I'm a huge science fiction fan," he said, "and to have grown up in a world where it was not all that often to see heroes in the pages of those science fiction novels who look like me, to have encountered Octavia Butler as an adult was just like a breath of fresh air."
Burton's recollection of being bolstered by Butler's black heroes echoes previous comments about his commitment to promoting diversity in children's literature. "Reading Rainbow" featured a wide array of books for young readers, including books featuring characters from many backgrounds, and he recently told CNN he would continue this approach in the planned web reboot of the show. "I firmly believe that seeing oneself reflected in the popular culture is critically important for developing a solid and healthy sense of self," he explained. As his tribute to Octavia Butler shows, he was speaking from experience.