Introducing: The Octavia Butler Book Club

From Seed to Harvest Cover

Octavia Butler was Racialicious before we even existed.

The late author is a cult icon, being a boundry breaking black woman in Science Fiction who infused her writing with rich societal commentary on race, gender, dominance, and much much more.

Last year, the University Press of Mississippi was kind enough to send me a review copy of Conversations with Octavia Butler, a collection of her interviews, edited by Consuela Francis. The interviews (some of which I will excerpt in later posts) were illuminating, revealing Butler’s damn near prophetic grasp of the underlying challenges facing our society. Quite a few of these interviews are from the 1980s and 1990s – her words still apply in 2011.

I savored the book as long as I could, but when I finally finished, I felt a deep and profound sense of loss. As just a casual reader before, I was suddenly confronted with the magnitude of exactly what went with Octavia Butler when she departed from this earth.

So I decided the best tribute would be to read, share, and enjoy her work.

Readers, welcome to the book club.

I’ve had a somewhat haphazard approach to Butler’s work. At first, I had only read Fledgling, on a recommendation for more black supernatural fiction. Then I read Conversations, and finished both Mind of My Mind and Bloodchild last week.

So, in a sense, I am starting over. (Hopefully, others long familiar with Butler’s work will do the same.)

Officially, we will start July 1 with the reading of Wild Seed.

As a new collector of Butler’s work (most of what I’ve read so far were borrowed from the library), I am going to purchase Seed to Harvest, a collection of the Patternmaster series. For those of you working the library, it may take some doing to locate all of Butler’s works – many of the books only have a few copies system, so use this extra week to start tracking things down.

We will also attempt to read Survivor, if we can locate it. Butler declined to have the book reprinted, since she felt like it wasn’t up to her own standards.

We will read one book a month. Each week, a post will go up around the book, perhaps some interesting dialogue, a question on themes, or an essay on a particularly interesting topic bridged in the books. We will also throw in some scholarly works on Butler, and, if I can, take the next logical step…develop a show pilot around her work. The talent pool on Racialicious is huge, and it would be fun to crowd-workshop a pilot, I think. And at least we know we won’t have the same drama as Earthsea.

So here’s the schedule:

July – Wild Seed
August – Mind of My Mind
September – Clay’s Ark
October – Patternmaster
November – Kindred
December – Survivor?; If Not, Bloodchild
January – Dawn (Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood)
February – Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood)
March – Imago (Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood)
April – Parable of the Sower
May – Parable of the Talents
June – Fledgling
July – Conversations with Octavia Butler

It’s a whole year of reading. Book club membership requires nothing but you reading the books – you don’t have to follow our order, but this shows the shape of the conversation.

Also, a note. My religious education is rather lacking in the finer details, and I’ve noticed that Butler (despite her own ambivalence toward organized religion) plays a lot with biblical style themes. So if someone notices a particularly interesting religious correlation, please speak up and help host a discussion. I will probably miss it.

  • http://twitter.com/LadyKona Kona

    I can’t believe this didn’t hit my radar. I’m SO happy. What a great way to revisit these books whom I consider some of my dearest friends.

  • http://twitter.com/misslocs Leah

    I read Wild Seed for the first time earlier this month and next on my list is Mind of My Mind. I’m new to Butler’s work, so yay to you for starting this.

  • http://twitter.com/misslocs Leah

    I read Wild Seed for the first time earlier this month and next on my list is Mind of My Mind. I’m new to Butler’s work, so yay to you for starting this.

  • Bahngerama

    yep. i’m in. of course, it sort of feels like my life is one extended octavia butler book club. 

  • Bahngerama

    yep. i’m in. of course, it sort of feels like my life is one extended octavia butler book club. 

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  • http://OctaviaButler.net Ayana

    This is a great idea! 

  • Maya Harris

    Tananarive Due is also another powerful sista-writer!

  • Maya Harris

    I am so happy to find you guys! I am looking forward to this journey!  I’ve read everything already, including Survivor (thanks for the google docs link on that), but am ready to start over. 

  • tavie

    I just finished “Parable of the Talents”, remembered that the third in that series was incomplete before she died and was never published, and now I am in deep mourning.

  • phoenixNdragon

    It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen in love with a book. A book with the rich, beautiful, and uglies. I just finished reading Kindred and am hungry for much more. I’m excited that others are reading and sharing my new favoritist author. That her voice exists for us in literature and science fiction is truly a blessing.

  • Lafc22

    I’m in!! I’ve been an Octavia Butler fan since the early 90s. I have read everything except for “Survivor” and am happy to immerse myself once again into her characters and her worlds. I believe her books should be part of a US HS literary curriculum. Are there any teachers on here that use Octavia in their classrooms? If not, then I’ll add to the movement that we push to make this happen!

    • Maya Harris

      I teach English 9.  I’ve offered Fledgling to many students as an alternative to the whole Twilight series.  EACH and EVERY kid preferred Ms. Butler and were devastated to hear of her passing!

  • Anonymous

    Yes! I’m really excited for this.

  • http://twitter.com/lfresh lfresh

    This is fantastic. I’m a huge fan.

  • Marly Pierre-Louis

    EXCITING!!!! I literally just picked up Seed to Harvest! I’m sooo down. Love her. 

  • Marly Pierre-Louis

    EXCITING!!!! I literally just picked up Seed to Harvest! I’m sooo down. Love her. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1015454289 Stephanie H. Johnson

    I’m excited! I have only five of her books… just ordered Wild Seed. :)

  • Anondra “Kat” Williams

    I’m in..can’t wait.

  • nicepebbles

    I read one of her books. Mommy-brain has me blanking on the name. I hope to participate often since did really like her book. I also need to read more. Life has gotten in the way of that.

  • Ike

    Just ordered the books! I’m so excited!

  • http://www.booksnobwannabe.blogspot.com Book Snob Wannabe

    I have been wanting to read her work for some time now.  Count me in!!

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  • Sher

    Count me in!  Butler is so missed.  Her works are simply wonderful.

  • alea adigweme

    yes!!!

  • TamikaMonique

    I’m in!!! I LOVE Ms. Butler’s works and am excited about the opportunity to re-read and discuss with you. I have all of these books except “Survivor”  and “Conversations with Octavia Butler.  I can’t wait to get started!!!

  • ummm….what?!?!?!

    One thing to perhaps highlight is her place in the afro-futurist movement. It’s kind of like an incognito black cultural renaissance that produced Octavia Butler, Sun Ra, Hip Hop via Afrika Bambataa, Jimi Hendrix, Parliament/Funkadelic, et al. 

  • Karyn Lynn

    I think Bloodchild is a collection, anyway the only time I’ve seen it is in a volume called Bloodchild and Other Stories.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a little ahead with the Xenogenesis Trilogy, but I don’t mind rereading later. Off to the library to find Wild Seed! 

  • DreaD

    I’ve always gotten recommendations to read her…this is a great reason to start! Thank you, Latoya!

  • Sean Anthony

    Looking forward to your updates.  It sounds like it will be very thought provoking.

  • Wanderinglady123

    I plan to participate in the Book Club.  I haven’t read any of Ms. Butler’s works in a while.  I’ve read every one of her books except for Survivor and Kindred.  I know that Kindred is the favorite of a lot of people, but I was always sort of uncomfortable with the themes in it. (I actually have a copy of Kindred signed by Ms. Butler.  She did a reading at the Smithsonian in the early 1990′s, and the line to see her was out the door!) 

    • Their_Child

      I will seriously give you $100 for your signed copy of Kindred. That is my absolute favorite book by my favorite author. I have been all over eBay searching for a signed copy! I will trade you for a brand new copy so that you can still read this amazing novel.

  • http://nkjemisin.com N. K. Jemisin

    Oooh, I would love to participate… but I won’t be able to keep up.  Not much time for reading these days.  -_-  Still, I will cheer from the sidelines.  And if you locate Survivor, please tell us all where!  It’s the one Butler book I haven’t read.

  • xenu01

    Yes!  I am all over this.  I finished reading everything of hers I could find via my library several months ago and I, too, felt a profound sense of loss.   Any excuse to reread these amazing, so-freaking-DEEP books is a great one.  I’m on board!

  • Dpjfan01

    I look forward to participating in this. Butler’s my favorite author and it’s been several years since I’ve read some of these.

  • Bretjb

    This is amazing. I just went and bought Seed to Harvest.

  • Evelyn N Alfred

    Super interested in this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=806562 Nonso Christian Ugbode

    Yes!! I’m very glad for an organized opportunity like this, and crowd-sourced pilot? Genius.

  • http://zeroatthebone.wordpress.com Chally

    Excellent, excellent!

  • Anonymous

    Oh, this is so AWESOME! I have only ever read one book by Octavia Butler, and I have been meaning to read more. THANKS!

  • bluedove

    I’m so fricken in.

  • Vanessa Lazar

    I am so pumped for this! I have been meaning to read Octavia Butler for years. Now I have no excuse.

  • FtrYBFMD
  • Theora

    http://octaviabutler.net/kindred-drama-listen-or-download-mp3s

    This page has Kindred as a dramatic presentation featuring Alfre Woodard, Lynn Whitfield, and Ruby Dee.

    • lizzie (greeneyedfem)

      Oh wow, I can’t wait to listen to this! THANK YOU!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sara-Amis/4938819 Sara Amis

    I regularly assign her short story “Speech Sounds” to my students (and would assign more of her stuff if I didn’t have so much ground to cover.  Her essays are also full of goodness; I quote “Positive Obsession” here: http://saracamis.blogspot.com/2011/06/opinion-in-five-facets.html   Both are in Bloodchild and Other Stories (might be worth adding it to the list?)

    • Anonymous

      Bloodchild will be December – it’s the alternate for the out of print book, but my hunch is most people won’t be able to obtain it.

  • Anonymous

    So in!  Already placed my book order.

  • Aliciad

    Love it!!!  My favorite author.  Full stop.  I’ve read everything except for Conversations.  I even convinced my book club to read Kindred.  I can’t wait for this!

  • StephanieO

    Kindred is my favourite book, period! :D I’ve only really read her short stories and essays in Bloodchild (and her novel Fledgling, which has some great concepts but was, in my mind, not very well written and had some major inconsistencies … although I don’t think that judgment is fully fair since it was something she was working on before she died and was published posthumously). 

    If you’re looking for a great contemporary SF writer somewhat along Butler’s lines, Caribbean-Canadian Nalo Hopkinson explores themes of racialization in her writing (and infuses other elements of myth, magic realism, folklore, etc into her work). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10400917 Bilen Berhanu

    i have been dreaming of this too! count me in! 

  • http://mclicious.wordpress.com/ McLicious

    Awesome! I’ve only read Kindred, but since I’m writing a biracial speculative fiction narrative, I’m trying to read more spec fic, sci fi, and fantasy by non-white, or at least non white/cis/male/WASP people. This sounds great!

  • Lara Trale

    Wonderful! Some teacher friends and I have been talking about incorporating Butler into our class readings. I think this will  be super helpful.

  • lizzie (greeneyedfem)

    This is so, so exciting — I actually said “Oh my god!” out loud when this post popped up. :) I love Octavia Butler’s writing so much, and am really looking forward to rereading her works  (the only ones I haven’t read are “Survivor” and “Conversations”) and hearing what other folks here have to say about them. Thank you, Latoya!

  • http://profiles.google.com/lilysea13 Shannon LC Cate

    Awesome! Just started Deed to Harvest last week. My favorite is Kindred. A  perfect jewel that sums up U.S. American history better than 20 textbooks.

  • http://twitter.com/RodATJr Rodney Thomas

    Awesome!  I’ll try to be game, as someone with theological education. I’ll also post to a facebook group I know that deals with race and theology.

  • Jlscudel

    I’ve been a major Butler kick too which had led me to other sci fi and horror by PoC and Aboriginal folks

  • tavie

    Oh, and being smack dab in the middle of the “Parables” books, as I said earlier – she not only plays with biblical-style themes, but in these books she says some very pointed and specific things about religion.

  • tavie

    Amazing and exciting that you’re doing this now, as I’ve been on a major Butler kick for the last few months and am right in the middle of “Parable of the Talents” right now. I’ve read a handful of her works – many are hard to find or quite expensive – but I’m trying to collect as many as I can and go through them. I don’t know if i’ll be able to keep in alignment with the reading schedule, but at the very least I’ll be lurking, and trying to read along when I can!

    (And no, I didn’t start reading her just because my name is Octavia.:)

  • Cahead

    Great Idea.   I’ve already read a few of these books…but I’ll follow along.  Octavia was a master!

  • http://tastewarz.tumblr.com Tastewarz

    I am currently bubbling with excitement…I lost my copy copy of seed to harvest due a couple years to some tragic water damage but I will definitely track one down to begin reading. This is a great idea!  

  • http://tastewarz.tumblr.com Tastewarz

    I am currently bubbling with excitement…I lost my copy copy of seed to harvest due a couple years to some tragic water damage but I will definitely track one down to begin reading. This is a great idea!  

  • blaqbird

    yes! so excited for this!!!

  • http://www.brewsterbuzz.blogspot.com Cardenie

    Lovely! I have only read Kindred, but I am very familiar with her work. We need more black science fiction writers, there is a real void in that area.

  • http://twitter.com/donkno DonKno

    Oh, excellent! I’ve been meaning to read her books but I’ve just never gotten around to it. (Bad, I know…) This will be good incentive… =D

  • SarahNicole

    “I felt a deep and profound sense of loss.”

    Not to be melodramatic, but I think about having lost her at least once a week.

    Thanks for doing this, and noting the availability of Conversations, which I haven’t read, and now will download in preparation.  I have everything else in hardcopy, excpet for Kindred and Survivor…

  • KNAC

    RAWR! We’re reading Fledgeling now! :) http://levanacentre.wordpress.com/

    But this is so exciting!

  • Caitlin

    So down and so excited!

  • http://twitter.com/SonofBaldwin Son of Baldwin

    Octavia Butler gives me my life. KINDRED and LILITH’S BROOD are works of art.

  • http://twitter.com/ltruthi Ruthi

    I am so excited for this!

  • http://www.blasianbytch.com BlasianBytch

    I’m really excited about this! Octavia Butler is my hero.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joyce-Tesar/100000205757228 Joyce Tesar

    I love it! I am SO there!