All posts by Sami

Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field

On June 23, 2017, the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network partnered with the Huntington Library to organized the conference event titled “Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field.” This daylong event brought together six scholars who have each spent significant time in the Octavia E. Butler Papers at the Huntington Library to present their research which represented the rich complexity of Butler’s writing, career and personal life. The event was open to the public by registration and was free to students. The event attracted approximately 150 attendees, making it one of the larger conferences hosted by the Huntington.

 The conference began with co-conveners Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey setting the tone for the day, inviting people to make themselves comfortable in the space and encourages folks to either tweet their questions using the hashtag #OEBStudies or write them on individual post-it notes which they could leave on stage throughout the day. Rather than having brief question and answer periods after each panel, the co-conveners planned a robust end of day roundtable discussion which allowed both audience members and presenters to make connections across the various talks.

 Before the first panel, staff members from the Huntington Library provided brief welcomes. These speakers included Sue Hodson, Curator of Literary Collections who was the person who asked Butler to donate her papers to the Huntington in the first place, and Natalie Russell, Assistant Curator of Literary Collections who cataloged the Butler papers and curated the current Butler exhibition at the Huntington.

 The first panel opened with Sami Schalk presenting on the role of disability in Butler’s lived experiences, research, and writing followed by Jenny Terry who presented on the Afrofuturist and, Butler’s open neologism,“histofuturist” connections between Butler’s work and the work of African American artist Ellen Gallagher. The first panel concluded with Aimee Bahng talking about  Butler’s research notes about slime mold to make larger arguments about feminist queer possibilities of slime molds as well as the ways in which these beings have been taken up for capitalist means.

“Speak and Write Only of things You’ve Earned The Right to Speak and Write About Through Experience, and/or Study”

After the first panel there was a lunch break in which attendees were encouraged to go visit the Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories exhibition with a gallery tour from Natalie Russell. During both the catered lunch and the tour, participants were buzzing with excitement and sharing their love for Butler and her work with one another.

Panelist and Organizers of the OEB Studies Conference

The second panel of the day featured Cassandra Jones presenting on postcolonial approaches to reading the character Anyanwu from Butler’s Patternist series followed by Gerry Canavan who discussed what appears in various drafts of Butler’s unfinished third Parable novel, Parable of the TricksterFinally, Shelley Streeby who used Butler’s research on global warming to demonstrate how aware and prescient Butler was about climate change on not only scientific but also cultural and political levels. 

 The day ended with a collective roundtable featuring all the presenters and both conference co-conveners. Moya Bailey read questions which had been submitted throughout the day for individual panelists and the entire group. Presenters discussed more items they located in the archive and offered their perspectives on her work and the future of Octavia E. Butler Studies as a field of interdisciplinary research, activism, and art. In this final portion of the conference, audience members were encouraged to share what they learned, offer up their own memories of Butler or ask additional questions. One audience member shared a particularly lovely story stating that years ago her book club invited Butler to attend after they read one of her books. During the book club discussion Butler asked them each what they would do if they could do one thing to change the world. After each person shared, they asked Butler what she would do and she replied “I would make men smaller.” It is responses like this, honest, humorous and political, that attract so many people to Butler and her work. Through the conference, we hope to continue to promote, grow and honor her legacy. As one small piece of this effort, at the close of the conference Moya Bailey asked everyone to share one word they would take away from the event with them. As people shared their single words, Moya shared with the crowd seeds from Earthseed Detroit and Get Ready, Stay Ready that could be planted outdoors. As the bag of seeds was passed around, a found poem of words resonated one of one throughout the auditorium: collective, community, vision, spirit, gratitude, and on and on for well over 100 unique words from over 100 unique attendees, scholars, fans, artists, and even friends and loved ones of Butler.

If you would like to further explore this incredible event, view the Storify of live-tweets or listen to the audio of all the presentations on SoundCloud.

Reflections on #ShapingChange

The Shaping Change: Remembering Octavia E. Butler Through Archives, Art, and Worldmaking Conference was held at the University of California, San Diego June 3-5, 2016. The conference brought together academics, archivists, educators, visual and textile artists, writers, activists, students and more for this unique event. Approximately 100 people attended the conference each day over the course of the three-day event.

The conference was made possible by the generous support of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, several departments and organizations on the UCSD campus and the tireless efforts of co-organizer Shelley Streeby. In many ways, it was most appropriate for the conference to be co-sponsored  by the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and co-organized by Ayana Jamieson because this event was truly about Butler’s legacy, how her work and her life have inspired the intellectual, creative, emotional and professional labor of so many people of all races, genders, sexualities, and ages. The diversity of the crowd reflected the diversity of Butler’s many worlds, with women of color often center stage, leading and speaking at the front of the room. Participants viewed excerpts from M. Asli Dukan’s forthcoming documentary Invisible Universe as well as mixed media visual art from Krista Franklin, handmade books from Monica Hand, Ella Maria Ray’s“Sankofic” clay quilts and masks and more, all inspired by Butler’s work.  

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A few imaged from the conference. Top row, from left to right: Walidah Imarisha, adrienne maree brown. Bottom row: Rasheedah Phillips, Nisi Shawl.

One of the many highlights of the weekend was hearing the life-changing impact of receiving the Carl Brandon Society’s Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop Octavia E. Butler Scholars. We also listened to excerpts of creative writing by writers and students in the MFA program at UCSD. We experienced manifestation work, an Earthseed community ritual, and a workshop on the importance of keeping an archive of our own lives. We learned about what scholars have been uncovering in Butler’s own archive at the Huntington Library, about slime molds, fan culture, life logging, digital humanities, Black Quantum Futurism, and the relationship between Butler’s work and recent speculative fiction by other writers of color. We were exposed to activist projects happening at the Mexico/US border, Farm Worker Futurism’s parallels with the Parable duology, the Free Black Women’s Library, and through the writing, editing, and distribution of the recent edited collection Octavia’s Brood.

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“the lessons of lauren olamina!! by @lacocoafemme (Ola Ronke) at the church of ‪#‎shapingchange‬ ‪#‎becauseofoctavia‬ ‪#‎shapegod‬ ‪#‎shapeself‬” ~adrienne maree brown

If this seems like a lot, like more than anyone could possibly fit into two and a half days—then you understand why the days were long, and why the questions and conversations had to spill over into lunch breaks and social media. We simply could not be contained!

How many conferences have people from such different intellectual and creative background talking to and working with one another? How many conferences have panels that make half the room cry? How many conferences end with people asserting they have found the community they had long been searching for? Personally, I’ve been attending academic and creative writing conferences for ten years and I can name only two other events that feel so much like home. It is a rarity and a gift, that in this case, is a testament to the visionary work of Octavia E. Butler.

To those of us at the conference and to many others, she was not merely an author, she was an inspiration and a friend (literally, sometimes, for folks who knew her in life, metaphysically for those of us who know who through her writing and archives alone). Butler’s work and life speak to the need for diverse communities which support each other and challenge each other, embracing and shaping change within ourselves as individuals, within our smaller networks, and within the world.

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“#‎BecauseofOctavia‬ we are convening and collaborating at the ‪#‎ShapingChange‬ conference at UCSD. Thank you to Ayana Jaimeson and Shelley Streeby for bringing us together. ‪#‎blackscifidoc‬” ~ M. Asli Dukan

For people unable to attend, you can check out much of what happened, including some most excellent photos, quotes, and links to images, websites, and videos by searching for the hashtag #ShapingChange on Twitter, or checking out this Storify by OEB Legacy Network’s own digital alchemist, Moya Bailey. Additionally, at the beginning of the conference all presenters were asked to share, at the start of their talks, their own #BecauseOfOctavia statement. This hashtag comes from a collaboration between OebLegacy and Clockshop’s yearlong celebration of the life and legacy of Butler called Radio Imagination and we encourage everyone to let us know what you have learned or done #BecauseOfOctavia throughout June, Butler’s birthday month. The Shaping Change conference was #BecauseOfOctavia and those of us in attendance will be reaping the rewards of that time together for years to come, not only because of the things we were exposed to and learned about, but also because of the connections we made and strengthened as well.