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by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Octavia Butler came to me in a dream once. Did she advise me to get my water-purifying pills ready for 2012? Did she offer to assist my lover and I Oonkali style? Did she shift into a million earth-life forms right before my eyes?
Nope. She smiled and told me she hated me. Then she lovingly played with my hair, and moved on to discuss mosquitoes.
And the thing is Octavia Butler must hate me and probably a whole bunch of us…with my incessant belief in the essential good nature of human beings despite the incriminating evidence of genocide, war and all other forms of oppression, and my tireless work towards accountability with people who sometimes seem not to care, but a especially.
Octavia Butler, in my dreams, and in the nightmare mid-apocalyptic settings of most of her books is a reminder that some things cannot be saved, and the changes our ecosystem and solar system are about to put us through are even more radical than we think we are. So in an urgent time of terrifying complacency Octavia Butler's work is crucial for those of us who feel the world changing in our communities and in our bodies.
Adrienne Maree Brown, long time student and teacher of Octavia Butler's work and all-around divaliscious genuis, knows this. And she acts accordingly. So she learned how to bake bread, and she convened the Octavia Butler Symposium at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit this June where so many of us were gathered to collate our intentions for another world.
The room filled with participants. People who had read all of Octavia Butler's books, people who had read one book or series and were still in shock. People whose friends had been telling them to read Octavia for years and who had one of her books sitting on a desk neglected and unread because of all their frantic activist work.
Adrienne designed the session so that everyone could speak and learn from the bodacious body of work of Ms. Octavia by creating a fishbowl exercise where people spoke in four chairs in the middle of the room to each other until someone in the erstwhile audience tagged them out to add their take on the questions Adrienne asked about why Octavia Butler's work was revelant in our specific work? Why the work was important for this time in history? Etc. People expressed their dreams and fears, their views that the capitalist anarchy that Butler prophesies in the Parable series is already upon us, questions about whether representations of sexuality in Fledgling and the Patternist Series provide us with new ways of responding to abuse, thoughts on the function of science fiction in general in our time, claims that Butler's work is much more fact than fiction to begin with.
Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler
With all of these questions dancing in the air we split into break out groups to brainstorm visionary questions for a reader for social justice visionaries for the each of Octavia Butler's series of novels, the Patternist series, the Parable series, the Xenogenesis series and her collection of short stories, Bloodchild. This gave us the opportunity to develop specific critical questions and to share more deeply with each other. I was in the group that discussed Bloodchild and in our addition to our critical questions about the stories and Butler's reflections on the work of writing, we spoke of our own dreams, our own prophecies that we have watched come true, and the sacred fulfillment of our connection to each other.
In other words…it was deep y'all. I would definitely attend a whole day or a weekend or a week of inquiry like that. Looking forward to the reader!!!
See the raw notes from the symposium here: http://adriennemareebrown.net/blog/?p=1471
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is the instigator of Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind (www.blackfeministmind.wordpress.com). Alexis, Moya Bailey, Renina Jarmon and Summer McDonald will be speaking on a panel about Octavia Butler and Queer Futures at the conference Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide: Settler Colonialism, Heteropatriarchy, White Supremacy Conference at University of California, Riverside March 2011.
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