Session to be presented at Modern Language Association Conference 2017, Philadelphia PA

Approaches to Teaching the Works of Octavia Butler

Matthew Mullins, Assistant Professor of English and the History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, discusses Butler’s concept of the future as bound to the past. He posits that Butler’s work represents a key contribution to the history of American literature by making her readers aware of two central conflicts that plague African American literature: the need to recreate a systematically obliterated history and simultaneously imagine a possible future. Mullins’s essay focuses on practical strategies for helping students become aware of the historical expectations they bring to African American literature and for helping instructors situate the results of a student designed in-class activity exploring the narrative structure of Kindred in an American fiction class. Butler’s fiction spurs serious consideration of the relationship between past and future and challenges a variety of assumptions about how history works and how it is represented.

Assistant Professor of English at SUNY, Albany Sami Schalk’s work contends that rather than being merely a medical concern, disability is a phenomenon socially constructed by the physical and attitudinal environments which can vary by time and place. Often instructors approach the concept of disability with examples about the architectural environment. While this explanation helps students understand how physical structures limit the abilities of certain people, it does little to explain how disability is socially constructed in terms of the attitudinal social environment. In Schalk’s essay “Teaching the Social Construction of Disability through the Parable series, Lilith’s Brood, and Seed to Harvest,” she demonstrates how Octavia E. Butler creates worlds in which the expectations and possibilities for bodyminds are different from the world we inhabit. She discusses how disability is socially constructed in Butler’s Parable series, Lilith’s Brood, and Seed to Harvest. By discussing how Butler’s worlds contain not only different kinds of bodyminds, but also different valuations and expectations of bodyminds, instructors can help students develop a more nuanced and complex understanding of the social construction of disability in order to identify and deconstruct it in their own real world(s).

In “Teaching Afrofuturistic Thought Leadership in Octavia E. Butler’s Fiction,” Tarshia Stanley, Associate Professor of English at Spelman College, discusses the strategies used to introduce students to the topics of speculative fiction, Black speculative fiction, and Afrofuturism. The Black female protagonists in Wild Seed (1980), Mind of My Mind (1977) and Survivor (1978) were the primary means of exploring Butler’s practice of Afrofuturism and denoting how such an observation might serve those in search of progressive models of leadership that extend across family, community, and culture. She writes that this kind of discussion is particularly pressing for students whose motto requires a commitment to being leaders and change agents, but does not necessarily address the real-world challenges of doing so in uniquely female bodies and for communities in deep and systemic crisis. Mary, Anyanwu, and Alanna are mothers, daughters, lovers, and warriors as well as leaders. Afrofuturism provides a lens through which to think of those positions as complementary rather than oppositional. The course content and format allowed experimentation with multi-modal writing by including assignments which were presented as humanities poster presentations, critical and creative essays, and free-writing responses formulated for the Octavia E. Butler Literary Society blog.

 

 

 

Remembering Our Founding Vice President and Friend–Conseula Francis

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The Octavia E. Butler Literary Society mourns the passing of our vice president, founding member, colleague, and friend, Conseula Francis. Conseula was an energetic and hospitable person whose work on Butler shaped her own life and the lives of those she touched. Without her, we would not have one of the most significant volumes of Butler scholarship, Conversations with Octavia E. Butler (2009). Conseula’s hard work gives us all the opportunity to read Butler’s thoughts on writing, history, race, class, and other important themes in her own words. Above all else, Conseula was a warm and generous person, someone who cared deeply about others and who was always willing to give of her time and of herself. She is remembered by her colleagues at the College of Charleston in this story from Monday, May 9, 2016.

Abstracts for Panel being presented at MLA 2016 Austin, TX

10 Years Gone But Change Goes On: Octavia E. Butler’s Public Legacy

While Butler’s work is a familiar source of inquiry in the academy, it has gained momentum among organizers, artists, activists not just for its narrative competencies, but for its paradigmatic efficacy. For instance, Tarshia Stanley, an Associate Professor of English at Spelman College and one of the founders of the Octavia E. Butler Literary Society recently piloted an interdisciplinary course on leadership based on Butler’s work. As the organizer of the panel, Stanley will share an essay titled: “A Road/Star Map to the Future: Butler’s Public Legacy,” based on her research for the course. Stanley examines Octavia’s Brood, a 2014 collection of short speculative stories by social justice advocates who use the ideological tenets of Butler’s work as their muse. The advocates in Octavia’s Brood draw from Butler’s consummate skill of world building and her deep interrogation of humanistic habitude to develop alternate and practical means of community service work. According to the book’s editors, Adrienne Marie Brown and Walidah Imarish, “Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in an exercise of speculative fiction.” It is the “exercise” of speculative fiction as guided by Butler that is at issue in Stanley’s paper as it seeks to identify and critique the role of what the editors term “visionary fiction” and the accompanying praxis that has spawned as a result of emulating Butler’s Weltanschauung.

 

A Ph.D. candidate in English at Duke University, Rebecca Evans’s work examines the ecological impacts of humans on the planet via the work of speculative authors. She has an article forthcoming in Women’s Studies Quarterly entitled “’James Tiptree, Jr.’: The Nature of Gender and the Gender of Nature.” Her paper for this panel explores the texts produced by and about two religious movements that explicitly cite Earthseed as a foundational influence: SolSeed, which draws on Butler’s dual interests in space travel and ecological sustainability; and Terasem, a spiritual framework for technological transhumanism. In “Earthseed Taking Root,” Evans analyzes these movements’ self-articulations as well as their cultural reception, and pays particular attention to how they frame their relationships to Butler’s work. Though Butler’s legacy within SF and Afrofuturist discourse is indisputable, these movements also allow a foregrounding of the unexpected extraliterary impacts of Butler’s writings. Noting the stark differences between SolSeed’s and Terasem’s tenets, Evans examines the three Parables books in order to explore the paradoxes and ambiguities that enabled such distinctive interpretations (and, she suggests, misreadings) of Butler’s work.

 

Joshua Yu Barnett is an Assistant Professor of English at North South University in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is currently working on a manuscript entitled My Left Arm, Her Twin Blades: Narratives of Resistance in Black Speculative Fiction. He will present an excerpt titled, “My Left Arm”: Allies and Complicity in Octavia Butler’s Kindred to round out the presentation, He conducts a more traditional textual analysis in order to speculate the real world application of Butler’s work for reframing and reinvigorating social justice allies. Barnett contends that while critics have generally praised Kevin, the white husband of the black protagonist Dana, for embodying the role of the “ally”, these readings ignore darker undercurrents that lead to questions about the viability of the “ally” as a model for antiracist work. Barnett places in conversation his assessment of Kevin and the recent controversies surrounding the behavior and attitudes of “allies” such as Tim Wise, to ask whether or not the white antiracist ally can actually be a meaningful force for social justice, or whether an entirely new model of activism is needed.

John Muir High School Class of 1965 Essay Contest Winner

CONGRATULATIONS YENDRICK PORRAS 

The OEB Society sponsored an essay contest to mark what would have been Ms. Butler’s 50th high school reunion. The winner is Yendrick Porras. We are grateful to Ms. Eddie Newman, John Muir class of 1965, for coordinating the essay contest at the California high school. Please read a bit about Miss Porras below.Octavia Essay Winner, Yendrick Parros

Group Picture, Octavia

 From Left to Right: John Muir High School Principal, Timothy Sippel, Reunion committee Chair Gilbert Blades, Yendrick Porras and Eddie Newman, Class of

Coming from a low income single parent household, I had to overcome many difficulties that made me independent and grow as a person. Because of our financial situation, we often moved homes which helped me adapt to new surroundings as I became older. When I entered high school I had a goal of maintaining a 4.0 GPA, but when I became homeless during sophomore year I earned many “B’s” instead of “A’s”. Despite being a minority and first in my family to go to college, I am striving towards a higher education to better my life and the life of  my family.

I am apart of the Engineering and Environmental Science Academy at John Muir High School which has exposed me to the field of engineering and various opportunities that are preparing me for college. Because of these opportunities, I was able to take a college freshman engineering course, with a full scholarship, from Johns Hopkins University. Engineering Innovation made me realize my passion for engineering and helping. I plan to purse a PhD in mechanical engineering. Another goal I accomplished was to get an internship. I interned at Muir Ranch, a two-acre organic farm, for three years. This allowed me to gain customer service skills and exposed me to laborious work that pushed me to dream for a better life through education.

In my quest for higher education, I looked towards those whose footsteps I now walk in for inspiration–John Muir alumni. I came across the Octavia E. Butler Society essay contest and felt that I identified with Octavia Butler’s experiences as an adolescent, so I entered. Octavia E. Butler gave me inspiration and is a true inspiration for young girls like me.

Yendrick Porras

JOHN MUIR HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 1965 Essay Competition

 

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In honor of the 50th High School graduation of the late writer Octavia E. Butler, the Octavia E. Butler Literary Society and the John Muir class of 1965 are sponsoring an essay competition for current John Muir students in grades 9-12. The first place winner of the competition will receive $100 and the second place winner will receive $50. The essays must discuss one of Butler’s short stories in the collection Bloodchild and Other Stories.

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