My First Encounter with Octavia Butler

Brace yourself. That’s what someone should have told me when I mentioned that I was going to be studying Octavia Butler this semester. Her use of alien otherness in Dawn made me re-evaluate not only how wonderful it is to be human but also how wonderful it has to have choices. She also touches on agricultural preservation in Parable of the Sower, co-habitation in “Bloodchild” and historical understanding in Kindred. I soon realized that Octavia Butler’s works are intended to make readers question the way they view the world and understand that they have power to make change. With her in-your-face approach to prevalent issues combined with a buffer of speculative fiction situations, I was able to finally get the message–and get started.

Niaya Little reflecting on her independent study on Octavia E. Butler at Spelman College,

New MLA Approaches Volume in Preparation

A new volume in the MLA Approaches to Teaching World Literature series is being proposed: Approaches to Teaching the Works of Octavia E. Butler, edited by Tarshia L. Stanley.

You don’t need to be a member of MLA to access the survey. Please click on the link to visit the survey and share your experiences teaching Butler’s work in the classroom. You may also propose an essay to contribute to the collection.

http://www.mla.org/publications/publication_program/approaches

The God Talk: Butler’s Earthseed Tenet

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

This Earthseed tenet from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower remains relevant and rings true today. I interpreted this tenet as follows:

If and because we change everything that we touch and are ourselves changed, I believe we must touch with intent. We must touch gently, with the hopes of doing good, and enacting change that is positive. We must make sure our hands are clean, and we must appreciate the change. This tenet requires the reader to be diligent, and thoughtful and to move through everyday life with a certain level of consciousness.

We are only left with the impact of our actions. We don’t all see the “touch,” but we do see the change that results from that. The only thing that will ever remain true and indisputable is that the impact of our actions will be what is visible–those impacts will continue to change and evolve as the people who are responsible for their catalyst do.

If God is change, he is then the only lasting truth. He is what’s left when everything else has come and gone. But what about change that is bad? Does this cancel out because bad is only relative and what I consider bad, someone else considers good? Or does the opportunity for God to be “bad” give him or her human qualities that we often times don’t have access to or see in traditional proselytizing religions? If God is change and we are change, does this give us the opportunity to be God?

I ask these questions because I truly do not have the answers. What does Butler want us to take away from this tenet and particularly the idea that God is change? If we are our own Gods, does this allow and lead to chaos and dysfunction?

Let me know what you think.

 

PANELISTS: Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts and Activism (Spelman College) 4/16/14

Last March, Spelman College celebrated the life and legacy of Octavia E. Butler with a panel of her friends, teachers and colleagues called the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts. Readers and fans from around the country came to the campus to participate in the historic event.  [See the video HERE.]

In 2014–on the 50th anniversary of civil rights milestones–Spelman’s celebration of the science fiction pioneer’s work expands to the realm of social justice with the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism. This is the Culminating Event of Cosby Chair in the Humanities Tananarive Due, who also organized last year’s event. The Celebration will include a panel, a Black Science Fiction Short Film Festival, and a presentation of papers by Octavia Butler student scholars at Spelman.

All of the panelists both admire Octavia’s work and have embraced roles as artist/activists in different ways. More information about the schedule to come.  (Please “like” our Facebook page for updates.) 

CONFIRMED PANELISTS:

Nnedi Okorafor 

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A leading international voice in black speculative fiction, Nnedi Okorafor is the author of the groundbreaking novel Who Fears Death, a 2011 World Fantasy Award winner that tackles real-world issues such as rape and female genital mutilation. The Nigerian-American author has also published several young adult titles: Akata WitchThe Shadow Speaker and Zahrah the Windseeker, which was awarded the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. She recently published a short story collection, Kabu Kabu. Find her on Twitter @Nnedi.

Junot Díaz 

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Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed DrownThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award.  A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He is the cofounder of Voices of Our Nation Workshop.

dream hampton

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Dream Hampton is a writer and award winning filmmaker. She’s a senior fellow at Moms Rising.  She was an Associate Producer of VH1’s Emmy-award winning “Behind the Music: Notorious B.I.G.” and Co-Producer of “Bigger than Life”, the first feature-length documentary on the rapper, directed by Peter Spier. Her short film “I am Ali” was an entry at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and won “Best Short Film” at Vanity Fair’s Newport Film Festival. She was a Co-Executive Producer of “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”, 2012, Associate Producer of “The Russian Winter”,(2012) Director of the music video “QueenS”, 2012 for SubPop artists TheeSatisfaction! “QueenS”, which NPR named one of the most stylish of 2012. Hampton directed the feature length concert film Black August: A Hip-Hop Documentary Concert, 2010. Hampton has written about music, culture and politics for 20 years. She was a contributor to Vibe for 15 years, beginning with its launch 1993, The Village Voice, and Spin. She is noted as a “pioneering” black female journalist. Other publications her writings have appeared in include The Detroit News, Harper’s Bazaar, NPR, Essence, Ebony, etc. Her Essays have also been included in over dozens of anthologies, including Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic, 2009 (edited by Michael Eric Dyson) and “Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness”, 2012 (edited by Rebecca Walker). Hampton collaborated with Jay-Z on the New York Times bestselling book, Decoded.  She also writes for “BET Honors” and co-produced 2013’s “Black Girls Rock.”

Find her on Twitter: @dreamhampton

Adrienne Maree Brown 

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Adrienne is a 2013 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow writing science fiction in Detroit, and also received a 2013 Detroit Knight Arts Challenge Award to run a series of Octavia Butler based science fiction writing workshops. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements with Walidah Imarisha (coming 6/2014). Learning from her 15 years of movement facilitation and participation, she approaches Octavia’s work through the lens of emergent strategy – strategies rooted in relationship, adaptability, and embracing change. Adrienne has helped to launch a loose network of Octavia Butler and Emergent Strategy Reading Groups for people interested in reading Octavia’s work from a political and strategic framework, and is building with Octavia E Butler Legacy Network on other ways of extending Butler’s work.

She is on Twitter @adriennemaree.

FEATURED YOUNG ARTIST/ACTIVIST:

Bree Newsome 

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Bree Newsome’s mug shot after her arrest (July, 2013)

Bree Newsome is a North Carolina writer, filmmaker and singer/songwriter and progressive activist who was arrested at a sit-in in July of 2013. She and five other protesters were arrested while protesting changes to North Carolina’s Voter ID law that restrict voting. Her short horror film, WAKE, was featured at last year’s Black Science Fiction Short Film Festival at Spelman.

She graduated from New York University with a B.F.A. in Film & Television. While still in high school, Newsome created an animated short, “The Three Princes of Idea” which earned her a $40,000 scholarship from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In October 2004, YM Magazine named Newsome one of the “20 Coolest Teens in America.” While at NYU, she wrote and directed “Your Ballot, Your Voice” a humorous PSA encouraging youth to vote. The PSA went on to win Grand Prize in the Tisch/MTV Rock the Vote PSA Contest. Newsome wrote, produced, directed and edited “Wake”, her final short film as a student at NYU. “Wake” has received numerous awards and honors. It was selected for official competition in NYU’s prestigious First Run Film Festival where it went on to win numerous awards including an Audience Choice Award and craft awards for Producing, Art Direction and Acting. The film was also named as a finalist for the festival’s highest honor, the esteemed Wasserman Award. Newsome is the first African-American to be nominated for this award in the undergraduate category (Spike Lee had previously won the award in the graduate category). As such, she was honored in June 2010 with an invitation to screen her film at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures recognized “Wake” as one of the best student films of 2010 and awarded Newsome a student grant. The film also won the Paul Robeson award for Best Short Narrative at Newark Black Film Festival. Newsome was subsequently invited to screen her film in several other major film festivals including the 63rd Festival de Cannes in France, the New York International Latino Film Festival, the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, Montreal Black Film Festival in Canada and Cucalorous Film Festival in Wilmington, NC. “Wake” concluded its festival run by taking the top prize at BET’s Urbanworld Film Festival in 2011. Newsome was invited in 2011 to serve as the first ever Artist-in-Residence at Saatchi & Saatchi, a global creative communications and advertising company headquartered in New York. In August 2012, Newsome wrote and recorded, “SHAKE IT LIKE AN ETCH-A-SKETCH!”, a song that skewers presidential candidate Mitt Romney and criticizes the Republican Party for policies that promote classism and bigotry. Newsome then directed and edited a music video for the song which she released on YouTube. The video immediately drew attention and praise from political bloggers, including The Huffington Post. Most recently, Bree Newsome has served as a consultant and teacher for the Cinema School in the Bronx, NY. She is the frontwoman for Powerhouse, a Charlotte-based funk and r&b/soul band and she is currently at work writing and recording her first EP. A staunch advocate for civil rights and social reform, Newsome was arrested last year during a sit-in at the North Carolina State Capitol where she spoke out against the state’s recent attack on voting rights. She continues to work as an activist and youth organizer in North Carolina.

Bree is on Twitter @BreeNewsome

Moderator: Tananarive Due 

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Tananarive Due is serving her second year as the Cosby Chair in the Humanities at Spelman College. The American Book Award winner is the author of more than a dozen novels and a civil rights memoir, Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, which she co-authored with her late mother, Patricia Stephens Due. Octavia Butler said of her novel My Soul to Keep: ““I enjoy reading the kind of novel that seduces me right into it and makes me forget about work or sleep. My Soul to Keep does that beautifully.”  She and her husband, science fiction novelist Steven Barnes, recently co-produced and co-wrote a short horror film, “Danger Word.” 

Due’s mother, Patricia Stephens Due, spent 49 days in jail after a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1960, arrested while she was a student at Florida A&M University. Her father, civil rights attorney John Due, is still active in the fight against racism.

Due and Spelman College English Department Chair Tarshia Stanley are co-teaching a spring course at Spelman entitled: “Butler’s Daughters: Imagining Leadership in Black Speculative Fiction.”

Due is on Twitter @TananariveDue.

Why Black Women Matter

 

Dawn

Fledgling Blogger:  Courtnee Brinker

I’ve been charged with the completely overwhelming task of blogging about Octavia Butler’s Dawn. When I first received the course syllabus, I immediately began trying to find used bookstores that carried her work, though often times I had to call and speak to someone to find out. Without a doubt, everyone I spoke to was white, and between three different bookstores and six different people, each of them knew that Octavia was black and wrote science fiction, which made me proud and evoked the same feeling I get when a person who isn’t of color knows what Spelman is and why it is an important institution. Those in the majority often have the privilege of staying within their own world and of being ignorant of what goes on outside of it, while people of color are expected to and have learned to navigate between many different worlds, just as Lilith Iyapo does in Dawn. Often times while reading the novel, I’d forget that Lilith is a black woman and I asked myself if it mattered. And the answer is of course it does—Octavia wouldn’t have written it this way if it didn’t. Every single detail is accounted for, and that’s what makes this work special. It is Lilith’s ability to tackle so many unfathomable tasks, to cope with her captors, to relinquish her control to them, and to trust them that make her a black woman leader, and a leader in a situation where many would have given up. Lilith’s strength mirrors that of black women as a collective, both historically and presently, while Dawn itself echoes a slavery narrative—tragic and captivating. Butler seamlessly weaves together the remnants of our very real past and the scary uncertainties of our future.

The Oankali, who appear to be the future, cite humanity’s hierarchical tendencies and vast intelligence as the downfall of the human race, and yet, they themselves appear to have a similar hierarchical structure and inclination towards superiority. The Oankali soon prove that they are what Europeans were to the Native Americans, and no different than the slave-holding Christians who beat the backs of my ancestors because they knew better, because they knew “the way.” Only in Dawn, the Oankali don’t use whips to prove their point; they instead rely on a psychological degradation that is arguably worse than physical punishment. The Oankali deny Lilith human contact, instruments to record her history and the answers to her questions. This seems to me no different than what happened to an entire diaspora of people. Butler uses the Oankali to tell the reader that history repeats.

In Dawn Lilith teaches that the black woman continues to be a place of solace and strength even when history repeats itself. Five hundred years from now, she will be a leader—not because she never cracks, but because of her ability to put herself back together.

VIDEO: Spelman College’s 2013 Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts

In March of 2013, Spelman College hosted the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts as the year’s Culminating Event for Cosby Chair Tananarive Due.  Co-panelists Samuel R. Delany, Steven Barnes, Nalo Hopkinson, Sheree Renée Thomas, Jewelle Gomez, Brandon Massey and Nisi Shawl discussed Butler’s influence and, in many cases, reminisced about their personal experiences with her.  The result was an unforgettable evening of fellowship and celebration.  (Also, a poem by Opal Moore and a dramatic reading from Parable of the Sower by Spelman College drama students.)

Here’s the YouTube video:

CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT