Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, Vice Provost for University Libraries hosts our virtual book club exclusively for Loyal Blues.
You’ll have the opportunity to connect with alumni and friends from around the country, all while having an expert educator guide you through several books annually.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler explores the dynamics and dilemmas of antebellum slavery from the sensibility of a late 20th-century black woman, who is aware of its legacy in contemporary American society. Through the lens of what she referred to as a "grim fantasy" the novel explores the intersection of power, gender, and race.
Octavia E. Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.
I am so pleased to be sharing this important novel with you.
There is no cost to participate. Simply purchase a copy of the book and sign up below to receive emails. This title is available as an audiobook, though a variety of vendors as an eBook, and also through the Public Library through Overdrive. If you have trouble finding a copy, just let us know.
Once you've signed up, you will receive periodic emails to guide you through the reading period, which will run from April 20 until May 18. You can also join our Facebook Forum to discuss the book and post questions. We'll conclude with an interactive online discussion with Evviva on May 18. We will be sharing additional lecture information here throughout the reading period.
See below for a list of our virtual book club events.
Lecture Title: “Kindred and Octavia Butler’s Parables: Science Fiction as Anti-Racist Survival Literature”
Dr. Martin Goffeney is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University at Buffalo. He has published and presented research on science fiction, environmental rhetoric, and literary theory. He graduated from the doctoral program in the English Department here at UB, and wrote his dissertation about the representation of climate change in science fiction in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In his lecture, Dr. Goffeney will be discussing the ways in which Octavia Butler’s fiction anticipates and counters the rise in white supremacist activity that began to accelerate in the United States in the 1980s. In addition to Kindred, he will discuss two other novels which Butler published in the 1990s, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. Butler positions these novels in response to an emerging genre of extremist survivalist fiction. In her work, she illuminates the connections between climate change, social unrest, and the dangerous rise of white supremacist militancy. Along the way, in Kindred and her Parables, she provides inspiration and instruction on survival in the face of disaster.
You can access the text of the lecture here.
Join us to discuss Kindred with Vice Provost for University Libraries, Evviva Weinraub Lajoie. In this hour discussion, you'll have an opportunity to ask questions, and offer your thoughts on the text, along with other book club members.
1. Think about the story as a work of science fiction, how does Butler ground something so fantastical as time travel for readers? Why do you think she does that?
2. Does Dana being a modern character effect the way you experience the horrors of the past?
3. Consider Dana and Rufus's relationship in these early chapters, even though Rufus is a child, what sort of power dynamic do you see? What power dynamics do you see within the family?
2. In The Fight, Dana comes back five years later to find Rufus a young man, fighting with Alice's husband Isaac. We begin to see the changing dynamic between Rufus and Dana, as was foreshadowed in earlier chapters. There are moments of gentleness and levity, but we’re also exposed to his unbearable cruelty. Do you think meeting Dana changed him?
3. There are several times in the novel where Dana either creates a rudimentary map or carries a map with her. Think about what this might symbolize. Why does Butler incorporate maps into this novel?
1. There is a great deal of tragedy and trauma in Kindred, but among the most tragic figures is that of Alice. A foil of Dana as well as her ancestor, she endures the brunt of Rufus' destructive "love" and anger. What do you think we're meant to learn through Alice's character?
2. Think about Dana's role as healer to the Weylins. Although Thomas Weylin distrusts and seemingly fears her, he puts her in charge of Rufus's care several times though out the book. Why do you think that is?
3. How do we see the sort of possessive and destructive love play out again with Dana at the end of the novel? How is it also his undoing?
This episode of the podcast throughline from NPR originally aired this past February. It’s a thoughtful look at Butler’s writing and influence.
In this segment of NPR’s A1: The Writer’s Room we hear about literary estates from several experts including Merrilee Heifetz, who we will be hearing from next week.
This is a really great piece from the Los Angeles Times about Butler’s connections to the libraries she lived near growing up, which continued when she was an adult: https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-libraries-octavia-butler-books-life/?fbclid=IwAR3eSTAGhekWjP-aYWuY76DtsM5JyJzUekuri6qYQGEFcqP5MTzcO1bA2tk
A full interview with Octavia E. Butler from 2000: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG68v0RGHsY&t=28s
This is an interview with John Jennings and Damian Duffy, who adapted Kindred as a graphic novel. John Jennings has a UB connection, he was an Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Visual Studies from 2011-2016.
How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival by Julian Lucas.
Dr. Goffeney also recommends the podcast Octavia's Parables from Adrienne Marie Brown, which focuses on the Parables. Available wherever you listen to podcasts. Brown also edited an anthology called Octavia's Brood, featuring fiction and work about the wider impact of Butler's work on artists and activists.
A video and article about author Lynell George who wrote the biography A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: the World of Octavia E. Butler last year: How Octavia Butler, the Person, Created Octavia Butler, the Writer by Joyzel Acevedo
And to end this week, in Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler described Mars as “a rock—cold, empty, almost airless, dead. Yet it’s heaven in a way.” Butler's legacy finally did reach Mars this year: Mars’ Perseverance Landing Site Named After Science Fiction Author Octavia E. Butler by Elizabeth Gamillo
Have a book that you think might be interesting for the book club to read? Drop us a note and we'll add it to our list of recommendations.