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)

Dreaming a World

Black to the Future Seattle, 2004AH, THE beauty of the web: These photographs showed up on Facebook over the weekend. Six years ago this month, Seattle’s Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas hosted a conference Black to the Future, which was a multiple-day exploration of black writers who have toiled in the areas of genre fiction —  more precisely “speculative fiction.” It was a well-attended, thought-provoking event that brought together various top-tier names including Walter Mosley, Tananrieve Due, and the great, late Octavia Butler.

Butler opened the event with a poignant keynote that went deep into her own reading and writing past. When she set out in the early 70s to train her eye on the future — a world beyond Post-Civil Rights reconstruction —  she didn’t meet up with much encouragement. If you were a black writer, she explained, and you weren’t writing about race — or racism — in an explicit way you were, frankly, wasting your time.

” . . . “There were lots of [stories with] big-bellied sheriffs,” Butler recalled, in her burnished, down-deep basement voice, holding court before an on-the-edge-of-their-seats crowd . . . . at the Seattle Center complex. “That just got tiresome.”

Trying to metaphorically build a world through words where the narrative was in your control and ultimately, for better or worse, the outcome, was  at the crux of its allure for both African American writers and readers of speculative fiction.  We can’t quite fix our present, so why not  look down the road at what’s to come?  Attendees came from as far away as Holland to sit in on animated panel discussions, seminars and workshops. There were students, DJs, actors, fans and workaday folks, even a young man who went by the name “7” — but, well,  that’s another story.

I covered the event for the Los Angeles Times. My piece is here. The organizers’ hope had been to try to do something on this scale again. The future is still ours to dream.

photo caption: from top, L.G. at right, at work; Octavia Butler, bottom: Tananarive Due (third from left), event organizer, Denee McCloud (end)
photo credit: Paul Toliver