Octavia Butler and The Reasons Why
Today would have been Octavia E. Butler’s 65th birthday and I could not let the day go by without paying homage to this dearly departed Diva.
Octavia Butler is – and I cannot overstate how much I am not overstating this – the Best. Author. Ever. That fact notwithstanding, you may be wondering what that has to do with Black is the New Green. Well, I’m glad you asked. Quite simply, Butler explored social issues, refused to be pigeonholed, and issued irreverent calls to action. (Sound familiar?)
“What sort of future are we creating? Is this the kind of future you want to live in? If it isn’t, what can we do to create a better future?”
I read my first Butler books in the early 2000s: Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower. They scared the shit out of me. Telling the story of a world where environmental and economic crises lead to rampant violence and societal chaos, the Parable books are largely thought of as dystopian fiction, but they ring all too true for the present state of our world. Butler was always quick to dismiss notions of her novels being prophetic – she did not write to predict, but to warn and to ask – what are we doing to ourselves and what do we need to change? From those first novels, I was hooked. And it doesn’t hurt that all of Butler’s works have one woman whose destiny is to save her family, her world, her species or whatever. It’s always a woman who did not know she was as strong as she was and she turns out to be fucking amazing. (Are you getting the connection yet?)
“There’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”
Diva Ø chooses to be part of the solution. Black is the New Green was created to encourage others to harness and develop their individual power. Some individuals must first become aware that they even have power, so we address that too. Obviously as a Black woman, I usually speak to my community first, but it doesn’t matter to me what color you are – I will hold you equally accountable for your actions. I am amazed by all of the BNGers who have chosen to be one of a thousand answers to the present and future problems. Let’s keep that going and recruit more people, shall we?
“How dull it is to have people defining you.”
Breaking barriers as a Black woman and a writer of science fiction, Butler refused to stay within the confines of any labels. While the majority of her writing fell into the sci-fi category, she found success in writing fiction, fantasy, and whatever she damn well pleased. Adding to her fabulousness and defying expectations, Butler was awarded the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant (just like one of my other favorite women of all time).
“I was attracted to science fiction because it was so wide open. I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.”
Much mention has been made of Butler’s environmental concerns – whether her novels took place in the past, present, or future, on Earth, on other planets or even in heaven, Butler always explored environmental issues and her characters’ impact on them. Equally studied has been Butler’s commentary on issues of race, gender, sexuality, religion and economic justice. Missing from the conversation has been the fact that all of these issues are inextricably linked. While I never met her, I dare to say that Butler would not call herself an environmentalist. Aside from shunning labels in general, I think she would find it odd that any human being living in the world would need to actually define themselves as environmentalists. Instead, I believe Butler would assert that if everyone were simply more conscientious, efficient, empathetic and mindful, then many of the world’s ills would be cured. And that is what Black is the New Green is all about. Where Butler creates fantastic, realistic, grim and wonderful worlds to drive this point, Diva Ø sums it up with “Don’t be a dick”. To each their own, right?!
I could never write enough to explain how much I love and respect Octavia Butler, her amazing mind, and her incredible talent. She is pure genius to me. I love her for the example she set as a woman, as an African American, as a writer and as a citizen of the world. If you pay attention, you can see the influence of everyone I love and respect all over Black is the New Green. And if you love me, I hope you will love them too.
“I am a fifty-three-year-old writer who can remember being a ten-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer. I’m also comfortably asocial–a hermit in the middle of Seattle–a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”
Octavia Estelle Butler: June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006
Mind of My Mind (1977)
Wild Seed (1980)
Clay’s Ark (1984)
Seed to Harvest (compilation)
Adulthood Rites (1988)
Lilith’s Brood (compilation)
Parable of the Sower (1993)
Parable of the Talents (1998)
Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995); Second edition with additional stories (2006)