By Christian ColemanReveling in science fiction/fantasy for an openness she saw lacking in other genres, Octavia E. Butler gave us gene-trading extraterrestrials, psionically powered mutants, a genetically engineered vampire, a reluctant time traveler forced to visit the brutal past of American slavery. There was no subject matter she wouldn’t tackle, no story she wouldn’t write during her three-decades-long career—except for one. The ghost story. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Raised as a born-again Baptist, Butler stopped believing in the afterlife and a celestial caretaker by age twelve. “Somehow you’re supposed to believe and have faith but not worry about having any evidence to support that belief and faith,” she said in a 1988 interview. “That just doesn’t work for me, and I never went back.”1 Coincidentally, at age twelve she began trying her hand at science fiction.
By Laura WinnickTeaching Octavia Butler’s Kindred is one of the most important projects I embark on with my students. I’ve taught it for the past two years, and have seen my students, previously bored by texts, evolve into voracious readers, horrified by the grim depictions of slavery and transfixed by the possibility of time travel. This year, we paired John Jennings and Damian Duffy’s newly published graphic novel with the dense fictional text, and students arrived every day begging to read the graphic novel, utterly obsessed with the artistic rendering. In this unit, our essential questions are extremely difficult. We examine: How do race and gender affect our identities? What are the lingering effects of slavery? How are people impacted by their ancestral histories?
Today is International Women’s Day, a global day to honor and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Observed since the early 1900s, it marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year’s campaign theme, #BeBoldForChange, implores us to help build a more inclusive, gender-equal world. It also coincides with the “Day Without a Woman” general strike, organized to bring attention to the inequalities women still face, including lower wages, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. Women in thirty-five countries are participating in the strike.
A Q&A with Damian DuffyIt was an honor and a privilege for John and me to be the first to adapt Octavia Butler’s work to a visual medium. It was also, in equal measure, nerve wracking, exhausting, terrifying, and humbling. It was easily the most difficult comics work either of us have done up to this point, in no small part because we felt the need to do justice to the story, honor Butler’s legacy, and produce a work that would be enjoyable to both fans of the novel and new readers.
By Christian ColemanRenowned author and MacArthur fellow Octavia E. Butler would have been sixty-nine this year, and maybe two or three books deep into writing a new series. Ten years have passed since her death, and in that time, the Huntington Library became the resting place for her archives. Her archives contain, among many things, drafts of an abandoned third entry in her Parables epic and the sketch of a sequel to Fledgling, the story of a genetically engineered vampire. Poring over the notes for novels that could have been and rereading her bio, in which she wrote that she remembers being “a ten-year-old writer who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer,” I feel the ten years she has been gone.
Black History Month is as much about rediscovery as it is about celebration and commemoration. At Beacon Press, the books we publish that cover black history reintroduce us to long-forgotten or hidden historical figures, unearth information previously unknown about prominent black leaders, bring us closer to the struggles and triumphs of African ancestors. In the current age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements that compel us to evaluate our country’s progress in racial justice, it’s important to get reacquainted with the steps black forerunners have taken—and their history—so we can see how to step forward. For this year's Black History Month, we're recommending a list of new and older titles offering biographies, histories, memoir, and more.
A roundup of suggestions for your new (or old) e-book reader.
In honor of Black History Month, here are a few Beacon Press titles that look at slavery and its lasting impact on American society.