Fans of Octavia Butler stood up and cheered at the recent announcement that Wild Seed is being adapted into a series for Amazon Prime Video. The story of two African immortals who battle over the lives and souls of their people will make for terrific drama—especially since the adaptation will be co-written by award-winning novelist Nnedi Okorafor and Rafiki filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, who is also set to direct. The Portalist had a chance to ask Okorafor—author of the World Fantasy Award-winning Who Fears Death, Binti, and other fine novels—about her vision for the series, her background as an Octavia Butler fan, and what else she has in the works.
First, our congratulations on being chosen to script the upcoming Amazon series! Are you a longtime Octavia Butler fan? Which of her books did you read first?
Many thanks! I’ve been an Octavia Butler fan since 2001. I remember the year because that was the year I was at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop at Michigan State. There was a day where they took us all to the bookstore (it might have been Barnes and Noble, it was one of the big bookstore chains). It was while perusing the science fiction and fantasy section that I saw something I’d never ever seen before. There was a novel that was turned face out and that novel had a black woman on the cover. Not an illustration, but an actual photo.
At that time, I’d never seen a real black woman on the cover of any book in that section. I bought the book for that reason alone, I didn’t read the synopsis or anything. That book turned out to be Wild Seed. I started reading. It started in Igboland with an Igbo woman (note: I’m Igbo) who couldn’t die and had the ability to shapeshift. Clear, smooth, fast moving prose that told a hell of a story. And it was written by a black woman. Oh my God.
Then I found out that Butler had actually taught at the very workshop I was at and I went right to the administrator of the workshop and asked if they could contact her. And that was how I found myself on the phone with Butler (the first time…there were others) talking about…my goodness, I don’t even recall, because I was so starstruck.
At the time, I was writing a story about a woman in precolonial Nigeria who could fly and was banished from her village because of it. I was delighted, my mind was blown, I fell in love. Reading Wild Seed felt like validation and a sense of community rolled into one. I went on to read everything Butler had written and I continued doing so after that. Butler was the first science fiction writer whose books I read consistently. Whose books I read not because of just one story, but because of her overarching vision and style.
Wild Seed is the story of two immortals. Doro has survived since the time of the Pharaohs by taking over any healthy body that he chooses and controlling others around him by means of psychic powers. Anyanwu is a healer and shape-shifter whose abilities make her almost as powerful as he is. What aspect of their relationship appeals to you most as a writer?
As a writer of my own work, this isn’t a question that applies to me because I don’t look at anyone’s work in this way.
As a writer for the Wild Seed/Patternist TV series, the complexity of their relationship, their need for each other, their hatred, their love, their understanding that is a different animal from any understanding a non-immortal could possibly have, all this appeals strongly to both me and my co-writer, Wanuri Kahiu.
Reading Wild Seed felt like validation and a sense of community rolled into one.
Co-producer Viola Davis said recently that being able to adapt the series to television “fulfills our promise and legacy to be disrupters.” Do you have a vision for how the series will do that?
Yes. Heh, I can’t really share that right now, as we are directly in the process of bringing it all together. But trust that this series will disrupt preconceived notions about the continent of Africa, how the Transatlantic slave trade happened, science and mysticism.
What about your fiction writing? What can we look forward to?
I’ve been doing a lot of work in comics of late. I wrote the Marvel characters of Black Panther, Shuri (T’Challa’s younger genius engineer of a sister), and the Dora Milaje. I also wrote my own original comic series, soon-to-be graphic novel, LaGuardia. As far as prose, I have a new middle-grade Africanjujuist novel coming out in 2020 (I believe) called Ikenga and I’m currently editing a book called Remote Control and writing a new novel. My memoir for TED Books, titled Broken Places and Outer Spaces, is due out June 18, as well. It explores my road to becoming a writer and it was a heck of a road. Aside from Wild Seed, my novel Who Fears Death is in development as a tv series at HBO and I have one other project that I can’t publicly announce yet. Exciting stuff.
Can't wait for the Wild Seed adaptation? Download these great books by Butler today.
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Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons