Octavia Butler’s science fiction writing, in which Black heroines and heroes face and surmount catastrophic events, has inspired a generation of artists and writers, especially those drawn to Afrofuturist ideas. In one of her best known novels, Parable of the Sower, an empathetic young girl escapes climate disaster and societal collapse in California to establish a utopian community aimed at spreading humanity across the cosmos. The prophetic work was first published in October 1993 and its 30th anniversary is being marked by artists and arts organisations across the country.
This summer, as part of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City programme, an operatic retelling of the story, written by performer Toshi Reagon and her music activist mother Bernice Johnson Reagon, will be produced in full for the first time in New York. The piece will be staged on two nights, 14 and 15 July, at the Wu Tsai Theater in David Geffen Hall. The project is being realised in collaboration with the city’s libraries, which will include the graphic novel version of the book on their summer reading lists for children.
The University of Kansas has also selected Parable of the Sower as this year's Common Book for students, pairing it with a newly commissioned painting by the artist Fahamu Pecou. Parable of the Sower: Oya’s Dream (2023), depicts a pregnant Black woman reclining with her nose stuck in Butler's novel and a figure of the orisha Oya standing on her hip, an Ife symbol of change and transformation.
"By embracing the inevitability of change and cultivating the seeds of possibility within us, we can navigate the tumultuous waters of transformation and emerge stronger, wiser, and more aligned with our true selves," Pecou says in a statement. "Oya teaches us that change is not something to be feared, but rather a catalyst for growth and evolution.” The work will go on view at the university's Spencer Museum of Art, in an exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the school's History of Black Writing research center, from 19 August to 7 January 2024.
In Chicago, the artist Candace Hunter will explore the themes of Parable of the Sower and Butler's Xenogenesis (Lilith's Brood) trilogy in her largest and most immersive solo show ever. Butler's books are a regular source of inspiration for Hunter, who creates collages, installations, videos, and sound works that bring the futuristic visions in the novels to life. Candace Hunter: The Alien-Nations and Sovereign States of Octavia E. Butler will be on view from at the Hyde Park Art Center in the city's South Side from 11 November 2023 to 3 March 2024.
And in Butler’s home state of California, the Brooklyn-based pseudonymous American Artist will continue his project Shaper of God, first shown at Redcat (the Roy and Edna Disney/Calarts Theater) last year, with a new iteration at the California African American Museum in January. The installation included drawings based on Bulter’s personal papers, now housed in the Huntington Library in San Marino, Pasadena, as well as a life-sized gated wall, like the one Lauren Olamina, the main character of Parable of the Sower, lives behind at the start of the novel.