One of my favorite memories as a teacher was having the opportunity to teach a science fiction novel, Parable of the Sower. That semester I was fortunate enough to collaborate with the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. I worked alongside a very talented teaching artist with a class of seniors to delve into and interpret this powerful text. (Shout out to Nina Mercer!)
I was truly the student that term because until then I had never heard of the Mac Arthur Genius grant-winning author, Octavia E. Butler. She was the first science fiction writer to win this distinguished fellowship award. Once you have read her work you understand why she is more than worthy of her many awards and recognitions as a writer. As a Black female science fiction writer, Butler “wrote herself in” to a white male-dominated world that would be quick to reject her. She once stated, “I’m black, I’m solitary, I’ve always been an outsider.” Her works shed light on various social issues that provoke our thinking about racism, sexism and violence .
She is probably best known among educators for her work Kindred. Khalilah will attest to this being one of her favorite texts to teach. In this breakthrough, best-selling novel, Butler tells the story of an African-American woman who travels back in time to save the life of a slave master, who is also her ancestor. Her memories of her own mother enduring racist indignities, she says, was the source of inspiration for this novel. Butler wanted to be able to show her audience “the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”
Kindred has most recently been adapted into a graphic novel, bringing this powerful and important story to life for a new generation of readers.
Butler passed away in 2009 at the age of 58. Her many novels and collection of short writing are her legacy that we can keep alive in our classrooms. In my own teaching career I taught two of her works and they not only changed my perspective but the experience had a profound impact on my students. Her writing allowed my seniors to explore complex ideas and concepts that were relevant to their own lives. Although aliens inhabit Butler’s stories her writing pushes us to consider what it really means to be human.
Peace and love good people.
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