Voice (29)

chicago-union-station-granger-28“Is the train station able to gaze at itself, revive the past, double it, a double as quiet as the face, the moving lips of my reflection within a mirror. Quiet as silences within the silences of Theolnious Monk’s piano. During the Twelfth Street Station’s heyday did people’s dreams truly float above the platform upon which I pcuture myself waiting for an Illinois Central train to arrive or depart, a platform lined with cardboard suitcases, ancient steamer trunks, duffel bags, shopping bags, string-tied bundles and cartons, colored gals carrying everything they own in a warm package they cradle in their arms, all of that dreaming and waiting, waiting, every shadow and echo and breath of those lives dust and grit and somebody brooms away each morning from the station’s concrete floor.”

— John Edgar Wideman from Writing to Save A Life: The Louis Till File

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.

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

“So be it! See to it!”


THANKS TO everyone involved and to all of those who attended Clockshop’s “Radio Imagination” reading honoring Octavia E. Butler last Saturday night. Our goal was to pay fitting tribute, but by all accounts we conjured her. From teaching herself — “guiding her own hand,” to warring constantly with isolation, to writing herself into being, Butler steered herself through a professional universe that could be as aloof as it was alienating.

She found an opening in a seam and made a place for herself. A roadblock was something to circumvent, just another plot-pont puzzle on a page  By articulating her desires, goals and plans — for decades — she built a sure path toward them.

“So be it. See to it!”

It was an honor to be a part of keeping her personal story aloft.

There will be more Radio Imagination events to come in this year-long celebration. A podcast of Saturday’s program will be available shortly. Stay tuned.


(Photos courtesy Clockshop)

Tuning in for Radio Imagination

A FEW MONTHS back, I posted a note about being poised to go down a rabbit hole.

I didn’t realize how true that was going to be.

I apologize for the radio silence, but I’ve been working on “Radio Imagination.”

Since the beginning of this year, along with my other usual reporting, writing and city wandering, I’ve been doing weekly research at the Huntington Library, preparing for a big project for Clockshop, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit art organization. Clockshop’s founder, filmmaker Julia Meltzer approached me, and several other writers, artists, academics, to discuss an idea that she’d been fleshing out for sometime.

Her plan was to create a year-long series of events, spanning the city all dedicated to the legacy and impact of  San Gabriel Valley-based, science fiction writer, Octavia E. Butler.  Going in, I only knew the boldfaced details about Butler and her work, but I was tasked with creating a “posthumous interview.” Though I wasn’t quite sure what that would look or sound like, I liked the places it allowed my brain to go.

A few weeks into the Octavia E. Butler archive at the Huntington Library, I knew it would become less and less clear before it would  find focus. She had a big, busy life and there were many possible paths to travel — I  just had to trust the process.

I’ve never quite been inside someone’s head the way in which Butler has allowed us  to be in hers. She was a avid and honest chronicler of her life — her work, her surroundings, her worries, her triumphs and disasters. Moving through pages of journals, letters, commonplace books,  mimics the effect of her whispering to herself as she goes about her tasks. We’re eavesdropping on process, the roundabout road in building narratives — both on the page and in life. Tomorrow four writers, Robin Coste Lewis,  Tisa Bryant, Fred Moten and I —  will premiere new pieces inspired by our time in the archives, listening to Octavia spin stories about life on so many different planes.

I can’t express what a gift this experience has been.

We are sold out (!) for tomorrow night’s event at Clockshop, but if you want to try to fly standby,  those waiting will be admitted if ticket holders do not show. A podcast of the event will be forthcoming so stay tuned.

Radio Imagination

IT’S BEEN oh-so-quiet around here because I have had to corral my attention. I feel lucky to say that I have had several big, deeply-involving  projects occupying my imagination.

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This one truly has been an honor to participate in. For the last few months, I’ve been paging through science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler’s papers achieved at the Huntington Library in San Marino.

It has been a rare and singular experience to be so up-close to an author in the middle of her process. It is a bit like walking around in the echoing expanses of her head.

I am in the midst of stitching together a new piece based on the experience for the project, “Radio Imagination” — a year-long tribute to Butler and her powerful legacy. I’ve been tasked with putting together what we’re calling a “Posthumous Interview” — I’ll write little here about that except to say the images you see above re just a sample of the items from the vast archive I’ve been using as inspiration.

We’ll be previewing our works-in-progress on April 23rd at 6::30pm at Clockshop in Frogtown. The evening’s event features readings from Tisa Bryant Robin Coste Lewis, Fred Moten and me. You *must* RSVP. . Space is limited. Click here for info and tickets (Suggested donation is $10).

(images courtesy of the Octavia E. Butler papers at The Huntington Library)