The OEB Literary Society is a year old. Like most toddlers we experienced moments of rapid growth and incidences of bruised knees as we sought a way forward. At our initial meeting at the American Literature Association conference in Boston 2013, we put together a slate of officers and two members. We’ve now grown to more than 50 members and were able to sponsor two very excellent panels at ALA 2014 in Washington, DC! Both panels were well attended and provoked deep and interesting conversation.
Bryan Conn of the University of North Texas began the first panel with “‘It’s your body’: Kindred’s Black Liberalism and the Logic of Contract” which caused a lively debate surrounding the in/ability of an enslaved person to participate in body contracts. Kristen Lillvis from Marshall University added another level of insight reading fictive musical performances as afrofuturist texts with a paper entitled: “Afrofuturist Tempo-rality in the Work of Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Gayl Jones.” Howard University professor and officer in the OEB society, Greg Hampton, added fruit to the African Diaspora scholar’s apple carts with his paper, “Reading Aimé Césaire with Octavia Butler: A Tempest and Discourse on Colonialism as Science Fiction Narratives of Aliens Invasion.”
The second panel sponsored by the society began with a reading of Earthseed and Black Liberation Theology. Clarence W. Tweedy from the University of Mary Washington gave us much to think about in his paper, “In the Name of Change: Prophecy and Redemption in the Fiction of Octavia Butler.” “Backward-Looking Futures: Horizons of Change in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” was an innovative read of circuitous time travel from Matthew Mullins of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The panel was rounded out by thoughts from Saddleback College’s Deanna Gross Scherger and her reading of feminist angst around issues of birth and body control in her paper, “The Gene Trade: Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series and the New Eugenics.” All in all it was a very nice birthday party!
The society is proud of the intellectual scholarship and diversity we were able to offer at ALA 2014. Among our goals for our terrific twos are to increase membership, to produce a newsletter, and to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the publication of Butler’s Fledgling. We will sponsor two more panels in 2015 and I personally hope to see significant strides made toward completing the MLA teaching series volume I have proposed: Approaches to Teaching the Works of Octavia E. Butler. Please consider filling out the survey and submitting a proposal for the volume by July 1. All questions regarding the volume should be sent via email to: TeachingOctaviaButler@gmail.com. Questions about the society are fielded at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, Happy Birthday to the Octavia E. Butler Literary Society and Happy Summer to all of you!
As I come to the end of my Butler’s Daughter’s experience, I want to reflect on how I began it: One of the reasons I joined the Butler’s Daughter’s course is because I am a science fiction junkie. I loved Ender’s Game and Stargate and The Uglies series but I was always somewhat alarmed that there was never any people of color there. What happened to the people of color in the future? Did they die off? Were they massacared in the genocide Hitler dreamed of? What exactly happened?
In many of the books I read, there was this every hipster idea that if we were all the same, there would be no more strife caused by silly divisions like race or gender or sexuality. There would be problems of course, but these problems would be on the scale of alien attacks and world domination. There was a cohesiveness amongst the citizens of science fiction that seemed to branch from the fact that they were all the same.
What I love about Octavia Butlers books, and Dawn in particular, is that nothing happened to the people of color: Lillith is right there, leading the way into the new future. Dawn is an entire book about how not only diversity survives; it is vital to the world. The Oankali cannot live without diversity and seek out partners in order to avoid stagnation. This is in direct contradiction with the redirect of most science fiction novels, where the destruction of diversity results in unity of the world. However this kind of unity is false, achieved only by denying difference and thus denying people their individuality. By embracing diversity, Butler creates a more realistic future and a more achievable Utopia, one that may not be pretty, but is on its way to being equal.
It’s been rewarding to be reading about people of color in the future, to have a story where we exist and where we are working towards gaining equality. I personally feel as more people of color writers are recognized for their brilliance, we will see more of the story lines become common place. I am excited for that day.
Going into this panel, I had nothing but high expectations, and coming out of the panel, I felt pleased. It’s a known fact: people who read and enjoy Octavia Butler’s works are inherently cool. And now I’m one of them. The panel contained a mix of artists and activists, many of who relate their work back to Octavia Butler and are finding ways to use her texts to inspire movements. With a panel chocked full of insightful people, I jotted notes to keep up, but one comment really stuck out to me–no notes required. Junot Díaz (whose credentials are available on wikipedia. Also, Junot, a few girls in my class are hardcore fangirls) said that our subconscious has a way of showing up in the work that we do, and specifically our writing. It was an interesting idea considering many people set out to write about specific issues like racism, feminism, sexism, agism, etc in their writing, but what about the ideas we aren’t even thinking about? As frustrating as it can be, writing is so cathartic. As a Spelman student I actively think a lot about feminism and women’s roles within texts and in real-world situations, and a lot of that shows up in my writing, but I think after Junot’s comment, I am more inclined to regularly journal to see what I’m thinking about when I’m not even aware that I’m thinking. Is my mind ever really off the clock? As we move into the spring/summer/school-less months, I plan to journal for ten minutes a day; I want to know more about my subconscious, and I encourage readers of this blog to try it with me!
On another note, today was the last day of our Butler’s Daughter’s: Imagining Leadership class. I am particularly thankful for this class and glad to be one of the pioneers of this course because it opened my eyes to an entire field of study (afrofuturism), incredibly talented authors, and my own capabilities to write and produce science fiction with black protagonists. I’ve always been interested in science-fiction books and movies like Gattaca and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, for example, but it never occurred to me that I could be the one telling those stories, and that the people in the stories could look like me. Octavia is correct when she writes, “all you touch, you change,” because this course has enlightened me in so many unexpected ways, and moved me into long-term action as a reader, writer and thinker.
To our scarily-patient instructors Dr. Stanley and Professor Due, many thanks.
Tananarive Due and Stephen Barnes have released their short film based on their novel Devil’s Wake to youtube.
A 13-year-old girl and her grandfather, hiding out in a wooded cabin after a plague, meet the challenge of their lives when her birthday trip to a trading post goes horribly awry. Starring Frankie Faison (The Silence of the Lambs, “The Wire,” “Banshee”) and introducing Saoirse Scott (“One Life to Live”).
Nominated for Best Narrrative Short: Pan African Film Festival and BronzeLens Film Festival.
Directed by Luchina Fisher (Death in the Family).
Written by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, based on their novel Devil’s Wake.
Royalty free music licensed by http://www.stockmusic.net
For more on Luchina Fisher: http://www.deathinthefamilyfilm.com
For more on Tananarive Due:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tanana…
For more on Steven Barnes: http://www.diamondhour.com
For more on Frankie Faison: https://twitter.com/FrankieFaison
For more on Saoirse Scott:https://www.facebook.com/SaoirseKScott
Spelman is full of traditions: There is an arch that no one is to walk under until they graduate or they will be cursed to spend more than four years pursuing their degree; All Spelman Women must wear a pure white dress with sleeves and a hem that falls past one’s knees for momentous traditional events, such as your first Founder’s Day; There is an age-old preconceived notion of how a “Spelman Woman” should dress, talk, and act that is prominent on our campus.
Spelman is also full of opposition to those traditions: People dismiss the arch lore as merely superstitious. Many argue that the white dress represents dated ideals of femininity and purity that contradict with the progressiveness of the school. Pushback against the traditional “Spelman Woman” is also prominent on our campus.
Faced with such either/or situations, I am often tempted to choose a side when it comes to the complexities of Spelman. But if there is one thing Octavia Butler has helped me come to grips with this semester, it is truly embracing the idea of nuance. None of her novels allow you a black and white, good and evil interpretation of anything. She gives an almost inordinate amount of care with her gray spaces, lavishing in them, whether it be through the exploration of the relationship between Nikanj and Lillith in Dawn or in the evaluation of consent between Shori and Wright in Fledgling. Octavia doesn’t allow you to pick a side by quickly pointing out that the sides are not as easy to define as we would like to believe. What she is more concerned with is how we navigate the space we are given, how the choices we make influence our realities.
As the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism Short-Film Festival approached I found myself immersed in a story of disappearing time and disappearing women and that was all behind the scenes. After plans for one short film fell through, I set to work on another, writing the script in a few days and cobbling together a makeshift crew and cast. I had my DSLR camera, a borrowed tripod, and some enthusiastic volunteers: I was ready to go. Of course, like most well laid (if somewhat last minute) plans, I found my film schedule falling apart as I faced my deadline. Two separate actresses casted for the lead ended up backing out of the project last minute and so I had to take on the role myself. One of the big scenes I planned on filming needed too many people and I had to rewrite. And then, perfectionist that I am, I spent all of my free time leading up to the festival editing. The morning of the event I fell asleep at my computer as I waited for it to upload and woke to a tweet from Professor Tananarive Due asking for my link. In the end, things fell into place and Winds of Change debuted as the first film in the festival and the only student film.
Winds of Change revolves around Cassandra, a gifted psychic who, at fourteen, was approached by the being Oya to be a warrior of change and bear the responsibility of changing the world for the better. Cassandra, however, could not bear the burden of this responsibility. Years later, Oya, recognizing that a single human couldn’t accomplish her goal, begins collecting a variety of world-changers to merge with her and become one super-warrior. The film focuses on this process, called “The Claiming”. It begins with two girls who dare to walk through the arch and are absorbed by Oya. The climax is a face off between Cassandra and Oya after Oya claims Cassandra’s best friend, Talibeh. At the heart of the story is Cassandra’s horror at the thought of Oya’s super warrior, a conglomerate of young women who lose their free will in pursuit of Oya’s “healing”. But Oya argues that the woman who are claimed share the same will, to make the world a better place, and that their merging will allow that on a scale never seen before. In a way these issues mirror the issues I find myself confronted with on my campus, the issues of being a “Spelman Woman” without losing my identity. To what point is the adherence and love of our school and tradition a betrayal of my free will? To what point does “A Choice to Change the World” become a choice to stop making choices? And the ultimate question: Is it worth it?
Winds of Change doesn’t answer any of these questions. It was written in three days and filmed in two but more than that, it is embedded with an Octavia Butler ethos, her rejection of simplicity finding its way into my five minute short without much conscious effort on my part. Instead of allowing a simple good/evil dynamic between Cassandra and Oya, I presented two beings who are equally flawed, Cassandra by such a desperate desire to keep her life as her own that she is unable to sacrifice anything to fulfill her destiny, and Oya who requires such a complete sacrifice of self, individuality is completely lost. But Cassandra and Oya are also equally strong, Cassandra loyal and freethinking, Oya determined and full of good intentions. The ending of the film still unsettles me because though it implies “The Claiming” is inevitable, it refuses to confirm whether this is good or bad, because it doesn’t acknowledge if Oya is right or wrong. After a semester with the Oankali and the Ina, I find this discomfort familiar if not enjoyable.
At first, as I reminisced about the film, I thought that with more time I might have ferreted out some kind of middle ground between Cassandra and Oya that truly captures what it means to be a Spelmanite who adorns both her white dress and free will with pride. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that both Oya and Cassandra have the capacity to fill that role, to choose differently, to shape their reality in a way that allows this nuance. For me that is my next step, to not only write a gray area, but to also allow my characters to dive into it headfirst.
The Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activist was full of brilliant activists and storytellers from Dream Hampton to Junot Diaz who discussed how Octavia had shaped the way they saw their worlds, both fictional and physical. Winds of Change has many flaws, the worst of which being my acting, but I know that I will always prize it, not only because it is my first truly eerie wor, or because the sound wasn’t as horrible as I feared it would be, but because it is a crucial part of my Octavia Butler story.
And it just makes sense that that story is inextricably linked with my Spelman story as well.