Patience, Survival, Mind: Inside the Octavia E. Butler Archive

IN CASE you missed it. Last week, I took over the Huntington Library’s Instagram and led their followers through science fiction writer, Octavia E. Butler’s massive archive.  I wanted people to have a sense of what it was like working with her papers, which also meant being privy to her hopes and fears and drive.

I’d been commissioned by Julia Meltzer at Clockshop to write a piece for their year-long Radio Imagination project, and my starting point was full immersion into Butlers personal papers — her journals, commonplace books and busy marginalia. I’ve learned much about her in my time here. What has struck me the most however, is just how vulnerable she felt within the writing process.

You can take a look at my Huntington Takeover here.

Also,  the lovely Julia Wick at LAist interviewed me about archive and you can view that here.

Thanks so much, Kate Lain at the Huntington for inviting me to take part in this. I really did have a blast.


Stray Cards from the Octavia E. Butler archive, Courtesy  the Huntington Library. 

Who Is Los Angeles?


Dana Johnson: Moments before our Interview after being circumvented. Union Station, Fall 2016. Photo by Lynell George

I SPEAK to Dana Johnson about her evocative new book,  In the Not Quite Dark for USC Dornsife. IIt’s a tough look at changing Los Angeles.

If you are moving through these changing corridors, you’ll find yourself somewhere on her pages.

From my piece:

Poetic and, at turns, unflinchingly raw, the 11 stories explore a wide-ranging Los Angeles experience: People pulled from elsewhere seeking transformation; natives sprung up from L.A.’s soil carving out life around the noise. It considers that projected dream — the West as a site of transformation — but its inverse, too: What happens when you chase a dream that dissolves each time you reach out to capture it.

The L.A. that many of Johnson’s stories pull into focus is not the telegenic region of rolling lawns, beaches and opulence. Rather, it’s a series of backdrops and situations that most Angelenos move through daily — city dwellers overwhelmed by traffic, keeping one step ahead of gentrification, at turns bewildered and humbled by homelessness.

As I consider in the piece, “one story overtakes another; some have more weight” All we can do is write our stories, our presents and pasts.

You can read the entire profile here.

Voice (28)


“In the meantime the Bottom had collapsed. Everybody who had made money during the war moved as quickly as they could to the valley, and the white people were buying down river, cross river, stretching Medallion like two strings on the banks. Nobody colored lived much up in the Bottom any more. White people were building towers for televisions stations up there and there was a rumor about a golf course or something. Anyway, hill land was more valuable now, and those black people who had moved down right after the war in the fifties couldn’t afford to come back even if they wanted to. Except for the few blacks still huddled by the river bend, and some undemolished houses on Carpenter’s Road, only rich white folks were building homes in the hills. Just like that, they had changed their minds and instead of keeping the valley floor to themselves, now they wanted a hilltop house with a river view and a ring of elms. The black people,  for all their new look, seemed awfully anxious to get to the valley, or leave town, and and abandon the hills to whoever was interested. It was sad, because the Bottom had been a real place. These young ones kept talking about the community, but they left the hills to the poor, the old, the stubborn–and the rich white folks. Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones and less and less dropping by.” 

from Sula, by Toni Morrison


Bok Choy to Broccoli: Farewell, Hop Louie 

SOME PHOTOS  from the penultimate dinner service at Hop Louie Restaurant in Chinatown.  Among my favorite moments was watching multi-generational families slide in for their last meal trying to recreate dinners long past. Too: the young Emo couple slouched over sweet & sour which they paid Dutch for with a pile of crumpled bills and change.  One waitress said she was ready for a long vacation after 25 years. One of the owner’s children gave us a crash course on the historic hows and whys of “Chop Suey cuisine.” “If you don’t have bok choy you use broccoli.”

I hadn’t been in that building for dinner since the 80s. Which of course was the echo of the evening.  A fact about which the ready-for-vacation waitress quipped: “If we had only been busy like this every night….”

Yes. If only.

The first floor bar is to remain open for now. Upstairs? “Maybe movies.” Another server speculated. Always some scratch in location filming.

Those spareribs and crab Rangoon were just as I remembered from Sunday downtown dinners with the extended family decades ago.

Happy to have the memories but sad to say farewell to all of that.

L. A.  leaves us bit by bit by bit.