One of the more fascinating items in the Huntington Library's collection of the late Octavia Butler's papers is a list of goals (pictured above) the author was determined to manifest. The list begins,
"I shall be a bestselling writer. After Imago each of my books will be on the bestseller list of the LAT, NYT, PW, WP, etc. My novel will go onto the above lists whether publishers push them or not, whether I’m paid a high advance or not, whether I win another award or not. This is my life. I write bestselling novels."
Butler's note ends with the proclamation, "So be it! See to it!"
Now, 14 years after her death, Butler has achieved her goal of landing on the New York Times Best Seller list. Her 1993 novel Parable of the Sower is currently #14 on the list of best-selling paperback trade fiction.
Parable of the Sower is an essential dystopian novel about a young woman who imagines a new way of life in near-future America. Amidst violence, fascism, and climate catastrophes, teenager Lauren Olamina develops a theology around the theme of Change.
The story is radical not just for its unflinching depiction of how grim the next few decades are likely to be, but also for its commitment to hope and humanity.
The novel has been adapted into an opera and a graphic novel, and in 2020 has been the official book club pick of Autostraddle; the Northwest African American Museum; the Seattle Art Museum; and more groups.
As authors Tananarive Due and Monica A. Coleman explain in their ongoing webinar series 'Octavia Tried to Tell Us,' Parable of the Sower offers a framework for surviving and supporting your community during 2020. The novel and its sequel, Parable of the Talents, are also explored in the new podcast Octavia's Parables.
It's shocking to learn this is Butler's first apearance on the New York Times Best Seller list. But although some readers are now discovering Butler for the first time, it's important to remember that Parable of the Sower has been transforming the world for decades.
In a 2017 interview, Parable of the Sower opera co-creator and Octavia's Parables co-host Toshi Reagon shared some thoughts on Butler's resurgence. Her words feel necessary to revisit in light of this news.
As Reagon told us at the time, mainstream culture is just discovering Parable of the Sower now, but activists have invested in Butler's philosophy for decades:
"I mean, look. There were a huge group of people who followed this book. Way before the election, activists started sharing this book on Facebook and different things and getting each other to read and really understand that somebody had actually thought about us and particular communities of people who were being put in systemically horrible positions by an ongoing aggressive government. So before the election that really happened, and before this era, Parable has been a thing that if you look at a lot of people’s religion is ‘God is change,' and that happened way before.
So a lot of people have embraced this, I just think whenever you see mainstream culture start to pick something up, people think oh, it's just now, but mainstream media is so late on Butler it’s pathetic. They’re really late. But the rest of us have been absorbing everything for years, and now they're coming into the light, and now there’s an even wider audience. But, you know, she’s been walking the path with everybody for a long time."
Download the Parable novels and walk the path with Butler today.
[via Merrilee Heifetz on Twitter.]
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