In the midst of what would be Octavia Butler’s 66th birthday I wanted to reflect on what she has meant to me over the years. Undoubtedly without the guidance of this luminary I would be less determined in what I imagine is possible. Science/Speculative Fiction writer par excellence Butler would find herself fascinated by the world of science fiction but also frustrated by what she saw lacking in it.
Science Fiction per the usual left African peoples absent, as if to say, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the future would be one without our presence. But if the white-male dominated genre would assume our omission or erasure from the future, Butler certainly assumed our centrality to it with our Laurens, our Anyanwus, our Danas. Octavia helped me to articulate black presence in ways that no other writer has been able to with similar force.
She taught me to listen with what she called “radio imagination” as she would layer the details of another world brilliantly, distinct and yet familiar to my own. I see in Octavia Butler’s work our need to be more creative in not just deconstructing systems of oppression but imagining what our world might look like after them.
So many of the conversations I see happening in circles of folks concerned about “justice” takes positions that identify what is wrong without ever arriving at envisioning what we believe is possible. This is the challenge that I take from Octavia Butler’s work though she leaves us with no easy answers. I hear in her work an assertion of self-determining will that like Lauren Olamina “intends to survive” though the road is not one that is “ideologically pure” (as if that could even be achieved). I hear our black prophet urging us to understand the power of our own body to heal and the power of our tongue to reinscribe ourselves as far more than some ancillary and cautionary tale. Her myths (not used her to identify something untrue) or stories of stories serve as a re-membering a re-naming that empowers me to, with erect back, upload a virus into this crooked system as I simultaneously reimagine the world! Bravo brave one and may we honor your tradition. Salute!