This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler’s birthday. See all the posts here.
Do you often write dead letters – that you pen down in your journal on nights when you’ve been defeated – to your favourite author? I have done this, and I’m sure, dear Reader, that you have too. We have all bared our secrets and mysteries to our favourite authors at some point. A good thing about this habit is, of course, that at some point, brilliant people like Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal might want to consolidate and publish these letters as a homage to your voice of reason, your favourite author. On the occasion of Octavia Butler’s 70th birthday, Pierce and Mondal are doing exactly that – they have edited and brought out the most comforting collection of letters to Octavia Butler. It is titled ‘Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler’ and is slated to release in early August. I was lucky to have had the chance to read the advance reader copy of the book, and speak to the editors.
The idea for the title of the book comes from the Patternmaster, Butler’s first novel – where Teray, a character, senses a pattern that connects all the telepaths and realises that these are “luminescent threads” connecting him to his community. The book attempts to do exactly that – bringing together a community that sees a pattern in Butler’s work, identifies with her writing, and turns to her for comfort.
The anthology is crowdsourced from people who were interested and had worked on Butler – university departments, African-American writing books, and for the editors, the contributor base sort of snowballed into the book as it is now. And diversity is a well thought-out aspect here – the contributors are from marginalised, minority groups who have learned to love Butler because their social spaces seemed similar. All the contributors in the book have personalized connections to Butler – one contributor questions the nature of consent in relationships, and responsibilities of privilege, while referencing Butler’s last book, Fledgling, while another laments the state of America at extant times, four decades since Kindred, while yet another – marginalised contributor – apologizes for resorting to warez to read her works. Each piece is raw, each piece tugs at your heart-strings. Mondal describes the contributions as “extremely heart-baring and vulnerable”. Each letter is a witness to the dependence of readers upon authors – “Your work is a river I come to” says one contributor; “I love you across oceans, across generations, across lives” says another.
The editors, themselves, are also have deep connections with Octavia Butler. Alex from Australia, describes herself as many things – a Christian, a feminist, a teacher, an editor and an amateur astronomer. Alex has co-edited a similar book called Letters to Tiptree in honour of James Tiptree Jr/Alice Sheldon, which has won the Alfie Award, the Locus Award, the British Fantasy Award, Aurealis Convenor Award, and Ditmar Award; was nominated for the British Science Fiction Award; and longlisted for Tiptree Award. Mimi, on the other hand, is a fantasy/magical realism writer from India, who presently lives in the US and is an ‘itinerant scholar’. She was Octavia Butler Memorial Scholar in 2015 for the Clarion West Writing Workshop, and her book ‘Other People’ is forthcoming on Juggernaut Books.
Their motivations to do this project were fairly different. Alex talks of an academic connection, and the fact Butler’s work and this project has convinced her of the growing and urgent need for diversity. For Mimi, the connection is far more personal – it is only after she had been awarded the scholarship, and began her course at Clarion West, that she realised Butler’s work was so significant for minority writers like herself. When I ask who this project was for – for Butler or for themselves – Mimi and Alex, again, have very different opinions. Mimi looks within and says she was indebted to Butler and her legacy, and for the opportunity the scholarship (unconnected to the anthology) had given her: she did for herself! Alex pursued the project for the many readers out there, who write in Butler’s name, and who wanted a chance to appreciate her work.
While their motivations for the project might have been different, their views on diversity is not. Both speak about the representation of diverse, marginalised people within Butler’s books. Butler’s books have black protagonists who realise and actualise their agency throughout her books, says Alex. Mimi’s answer hits home – Mimi, I, and most Indian readers grew up reading SFF books that had white characters in First World countries that we had never visited; it was difficult to find a way to feel represented or involved. There was always an untempered schism in our minds, as readers, since the SFF scene in India is scanty and remains untouched by international SFF trends. Moreover, it remains controlled by a male-dominated community rampant with misogyny and creates barriers for women writers of SFF.
I also asked the editors about whether they view SFF or speculative fiction differently after engaging with Butler’s work. For Alex, it has been about how Butler writes SFF; she says that in Butler’s books “there’s rarely a situation that is solved for the best with the use of violence”, and how there are multiple ways of thinking about the future, as opposed to the generic explosions and space wars. Mimi says that Butler has challenged the way she imagines things: “Many contemporary speculative fiction writers write stories like that, but Butler was possibly the first – she set the standard. Reading a Butler story isn’t reading the story alone, it’s also imagining all the stories that people like us have never learned to imagine about ourselves.”
Luminescent Threads remains true to diversity throughout – most contributors are from diverse backgrounds, and you can sense their lack of privilege in their letters. There is also a sense of dystopia in the letters, as each of them face a new America, a different America, one that Butler had prepared them for but they’d never thought they’d see.
Personally, I have not known Octavia Butler as much as I’d like to. When I picked up Kindred (my first, and unfortunately only, Butler), frankly, I thought she was a white author! But that’s how the spaces in publication are – we are constantly fed content by upper class-cisgendered-white individuals, and we assume that every book we pick up is automatically by a person we won’t identify with. And most importantly, someone who won’t identify with our struggles and challenges! However, reading Luminescent Threads has changed the ways in which I view Butler – reading the contributors’ letters to her struck a chord in me. Here I was looking within people’s lives, understanding how an author has had so much influence in the way they have lived and loved. It has been an exhilarating experience to know Butler through people whose lives she has touched, and who found refuge in her complex universes.
Science Fiction Short Story Collections by Authors of Color
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. Like so many fantastic genre writers before and since, Octavia Butler got her start when she sold the short story Crossover. Short story publishing has often provided authors of marginalized backgrounds with a better chance to get off the ground. Publishing a novel takes a greater commitment of time and money, so companies are more hesitant to pull the trigger on unknown authors with "non-traditional" backgrounds and stories. And yet, some of the most iconic works of fiction are only a few...
Fear and Butler in America
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. I spent most of my life afraid of Octavia Butler. A 1988 copy of Kindred sat on my bookshelf for years. It traveled across the country with me. Twice. Actually, I’ve had two copies; I traded in the one I had when I found an older version with a more interesting cover. I sort of knew what it was about. Something involving a black woman from the present traveling back to the Antebellum United States. I knew it...
Fierce: The Short Fiction of Octavia Butler
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. Fierce. That was my reaction when I read the work of Octavia Butler for the first time. This is a woman to be reckoned with. I don't say that just because she is a black woman writing in a genre that is dominated by white men - even more so than literature as a whole - and that is nothing if not impressive. I say it because she does something with her writing that so many authors attempt...
A Smurfette in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Octavia’s Legacy
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. Women writers have interesting barriers. The Mary Sue and Tor.com have discussed how female SFF writers, and SFF female characters, can easily become overlooked or forgotten. We don’t receive as much coverage due to implicit bias in our culture. This is ironic since according to history women like Mary Shelley have created the science fiction and horror genres. Tor.com mentions that the women that leave a legacy are the Smurfettes of the world, the token female authors that...
LUMINESCENT THREADS: Knowing Octavia Butler Through a Community That Loves Her
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. Do you often write dead letters - that you pen down in your journal on nights when you’ve been defeated - to your favourite author? I have done this, and I’m sure, dear Reader, that you have too. We have all bared our secrets and mysteries to our favourite authors at some point. A good thing about this habit is, of course, that at some point, brilliant people like Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal might want to consolidate and...
Is it Possible to Misread Octavia Butler?
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. "Bloodchild" is one of Octavia Butler's most haunting, disturbing, and memorable stories, and is also one of the greatest things she ever wrote. And I know that I am not alone in having completely misread the story and entirely missed what Butler had accomplished. The titular tale in Butler's one and only short story collection, "Bloodchild" describes a future where humanity has developed a complicated relationship with a race of insect-like creatures known as the Tlic. The Tlic chooses...
Why Octavia E. Butler is Essential SciFi Genre Reading
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. I'm not really sure when I became a huge fan of Octavia E. Butler, but I do remember the first novel of hers I read: it was Kindred. I had been loving sci-fi novels at the time, but everything I picked up after The Hunger Games felt stale and repetitive (Christ, did we really need a whole Divergent series? Sorry, not sorry). I picked up Kindred because it sounded genuinely original, and it is: I couldn't put it down and...
Writers Inspired by Octavia Butler
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. Octavia Butler inspired many writers -- especially writers of color -- by showing them that they could be writers, that there was a place for their fiction. That their dreams were worthy of following. These writers' stories about Octavia Butler's influence shows how important the Own Voices movement is in publishing. We need books written by black women, with black women on the cover, prominently displayed on bookshelves. We needed them yesterday, but today will have to do. Thankfully, for...
Science Fiction That Isn’t Quite; or, Books to Read if You Loved KINDRED
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. My first significant memory of Octavia Butler is from college, when I was in a class about representations and intersections of race and sexuality, and we read her Kindred. Kindred is a strange, beautiful, harrowing, painful book in which a black woman in the contemporary U.S. find herself repeatedly and inexplicably drawn back in time to an antebellum plantation. For me, the “inexplicably” was so important that, when a friend in the class described the book as “science...
Discovering Octavia Butler’s FLEDGLING And Rediscovering Genre Fiction
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. I discovered Octavia Butler because of Betty Smith. Really! Ok, so what happened was: I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn many, many, many times, for the obvious reasons. It was about a girl who loved to read, and while my family was not as poor as Francie’s we were not well-off. We were both Irish! (Well, I’m a quarter, but it counts in my head.) And, like Francie, I often spent hours and hours in my local...
5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Women of Color Authors to Read After Octavia Butler
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. Already read everything by the majestic Octavia Butler? In honor of her birthday, check out these other women of color authors who are writing innovative, mind-blowing science fiction and fantasy. N.K. Jemisin Honestly, if you’re a fan of Octavia Butler and you haven’t read N.K. Jemisin yet, where have you been? Since the publication of her debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in 2010, Jemisin’s ground-breaking, unique fantasy novels have only been getting better. To date she has...
An Octavia Butler Reading Pathway
This is one of numerous posts written today at the Riot in celebration of Octavia Butler's birthday. See all the posts here. Today at Book Riot, we're celebrating Octavia Butler day. If you're not already a Butler fan, we hope that our posts have piqued your interest! If you're interested in reading Octavia Butler's work but don't know where to start, this post is for you! These books will give you a great introduction to Butler's writing. Start with ... Kindred. This is where I started with Butler, and of all her books that I've read, I think it has the...
Also In This Story Stream
- Science Fiction Short Story Collections by Authors of Color
- Fear and Butler in America
- Fierce: The Short Fiction of Octavia Butler
- A Smurfette in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Octavia’s Legacy
- Is it Possible to Misread Octavia Butler?
- Why Octavia E. Butler is Essential SciFi Genre Reading
- Writers Inspired by Octavia Butler
- Science Fiction That Isn’t Quite; or, Books to Read if You Loved KINDRED
- Discovering Octavia Butler’s FLEDGLING And Rediscovering Genre Fiction
- 5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Women of Color Authors to Read After Octavia Butler
- An Octavia Butler Reading Pathway