We May Be Done with Butler…

…but not everybody is! (And to be fair, we’re done with Butler in the sense that our scheduled reading of three of her novels ended some weeks ago—speaking for myself, I don’t see ever being done with her and her work.)

I was doing a little idle searching the other day and found a couple podcasts that are right in line with our most recent go-round here. The first is the audio record of a conference called Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field. I listened to it a few days ago, coincidentally right on the conference’s fourth anniversary. It was held at the Huntington Library, which Butler bequeathed her papers to on her death. (In the introduction to the conference, you get to hear that story in brief.) All the talks/papers relied to one degree or another on research the authors had conducted in the Octavia E. Butler Collection there.

This was really my first encounter with archivally informed criticism like this. I suppose I was cognizant of the historical value of archives, but since the whole point of them (or at least ones like the Butler Collection) is to collect material that wasn’t published, they’ve seemed to me more like curiosities than sources that can do much to enrich the analysis of published work. (If you like, you can compare it to some of the US Supreme Court justices’ objection to using what’s called “legislative history” to interpret a law; you can’t be certain enough of the relationship between a text and comments made during its drafting but not incorporated into it to know what kind of weight those comments deserve in your interpretation.)

This was a silly opinion. For the most part, I thought this was a fabulously interesting conference. Probably the talk that was most directly relevant to the project we did here at Infinite Zombies was by Gerry Canavan, who spoke on the (apparently numerous) drafts of the third Earthseed volume that Butler intended to write, Parable of the Trickster, and the kinds of questions that a survey of these drafts suggests she wanted to grapple with in it. There were a number of fascinating interdisciplinary approaches to Butler’s work—which especially makes sense given the conference’s goal of heralding the coalescing field of Octavia Butler studies. (I was tickled to hear one speaker say, “I wrote about Kindred in my thesis, so I’ve read very nearly all the criticism there is on it.”) There was also an extraordinary story from an attendee about when the women’s sf book club she’s a member of read Kindred and Butler attended the meeting where they talked about it.

The other podcast I found, I haven’t had time to listen to yet, but I’m eager to dive in. It’s called Octavia’s Parables, and it’s a deep-dive approach to the Earthseed novels (at least at first) that goes at an even more deliberate pace than we did here: pretty much a chapter a week. It’s made by Toshi Reagon and adrienne maree brown, who have engaged quite a bit with Butler’s work before—Reagon cocreated the opera version of Parable of the Sower, and brown is a coeditor of Octavia’s Brood, which is an anthology of visionary fiction taking up the mantle of Butler’s methods of using sf to imagine social possibilities and social change. Like I said, I haven’t listened yet, but by the look of things the podcast was originally intended to cover the Earthseed books only, but may have expanded to larger plans to eventually discuss all of Butler’s novels. This is…pretty much exactly my jam. I can’t wait to listen.

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