Octavia Butler has captured the contemporary imagination. Although she left us in 2006, her works seem more relevant than ever. Jonathan Alexander, University of California, Irvine Chancellor's Professor of English & Informatics, has taught her work for two decades.
"In straightforward, accessible prose, Butler used the genres of science fiction and speculative fiction to explore the legacies of slavery and the ongoing problem of racism in the US -- and how they might continue to shape, and distort, the future," says Alexander. "A native of Southern California, specifically Pasadena, one of Butler's most popular and provocative books, PARABLE OF THE SOWER, is set in California, in a dystopian near future (2024) in which the country is fracturing, hate groups are ascendant, a conservative president is promising a return to America's former greatness, poverty and homelessness are rampant, and corporations are taking over towns, promising security and jobs which turn out to be a form of contemporary slavery. In this near future, Butler's young Black and disabled narrator dares to dream of a better future and uses her writing to create Earthseed, a philosophy embracing and working with change to re-imagine human potential, connection, and possibility."
Though originally published in 1993, the book strikes today's readers as startlingly contemporary. A popular pandemic webinar, OCTAVIA TRIED TO TELL US, looks to this book and other of Butler's novels for ethical sustenance, and the Library of America has just released its first volume of Butler's writings. Belatedly, this MacArthur "Genius Grant" recipient is finally getting the wide fame she so richly deserves.
Alexander is currently teaching PARABLE OF THE SOWER in his English undergrad course on utopias/dystopias, and he taught FLEDGLING, her last published novel, last year in a course on contemporary queer literature.
Here's an article he wrote a few years ago that centers Butler's imagination of the future: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/part-four-preparing-alien/