Review of The Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts

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The Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday, 21 March 2013 was like a family re-union for me, as well as a space for meeting new friends. It was ten years ago, that I first set out on the making of Invisible Universe: a history of blackness in speculative fiction, where I first met many of the people who were in attendance at this event including the late, great Octavia E. Butler. Tananarive Due, Cosby Chair at Spelman College put together a fantastic event that included a film festival where my short fan film, M.O.M.M., adapted from Octavia E. Butler’s Mind of My Mind screened, a performance piece by Spelman students adapted from Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, artwork by the greats Candace Hunter, John Jennings and Joseph Wheeler III, a performance paper by DJ Lynnee Denise and a high powered panel with Tananarive Due, Sheree Renee Thomas, Nisi Shawl, Brandon Massey, Nalo Hopkinson, Jewelle Gomez, Steven Barnes and Samuel “Chip” R. Delany. During the panel, the panelists reminisced on their memories and the work of our matron saint of speculative fiction, Octavia E. Butler.

ButlerSpelman_djlynneedeniseDJ Lynee Denise providing the event with “entertainment with a thesis”.

I must note that it was also great to finally meet face to face with sister futurist, Nettrice Gaskins and run into one of my graduate school professors, filmmaker, Ayoka Chenzira. Like I said, family re-union. And all of us brought together by our love of Octavia E. Butler.

Octavia E. Butler
“Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006), who won a MacArthur Genius Grant as well as Hugo and Nebula awards, was a pioneer and one of the nation’s most beloved standard bearers in the realm of social science fiction. Her novels, which include Kindred, Patternmaster and Parable of the Sower, are well-researched and deeply thoughtful meditations on power dynamics and community building between colliding populations of humans, mentally enhanced humans, and alien species. Her strong, complex heroines have resonated with readers for decades.” – from Spelman College’s website

It is now, more than ever that I understand how important it is to complete my documentary, Invisible Universe which explores the relationship between the Black body and popular fantasy, horror and science fiction literature and film and the alternative perspectives produced by creators of color. To support this project’s completion, please go to my fiscal sponsor page at Fractured Atlas, and make a DONATION!

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Ten years ago, I began my journey on a project that has taken me all around the country, to countless conventions, conferences, symposiums and even people’s houses and has given me the opportunity to research, then meet and converse and sometimes even host and moderate my own events with several of my creative heroes in and around the world of Black science fiction. This project is called Invisible Universe and it is an historical survey of the representations of Black people in the genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction books and films. A long and continuing journey it has been and now as I come upon the cusp of completion of the project, which has gone through several bouts with financing and personal space/time management, as well as several forms, I find myself coming full circle.

I have been invited to participate in Black to the Future: The Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts at Spelman College, by the award-winning author and its Cosby Chair in the Humanities, Tananarive Due, in Atlanta, Georgia. This one day event, which will take place on Thursday, 21 March 2013, will host a short film festival which will screen an unseen segment from my Invisible Universe project and also a short film I produced based on a scene from one of Octavia’s books, a position paper/DJ set by Lynnee Denise, several staged readings of passages from Octavia E. Butler’s books by Spelman students and a panel including Samuel R. Delany, Steven Barnes, Sheree Renee Thomas, Nisi Shawl, Nalo Hopkinson, Jewelle Gomez, Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due and others.

I say full circle, because before Invisible Universe had even begun to take shape in my mind, I found myself at Howard University in Washington D.C., some ten years ago in 2003, for the A New Frontier: Blacks in Science Fiction conference with a camera and a goal. The goal was to document a once in a lifetime panel of Black science fiction writers, Octavia E. Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due and Samuel R. Delany (who was unable to attend), all gathered together on one stage, to talk about Black science fiction. This event, which was put together by Dr. Gregory J. Hampton, was the first time I had heard of such an event happening, (though I remember Octavia speaking about a panel prior to this one, subsequently). I did not know the work of most of the writers on the panel. I had heard of Steven Barnes but had not read him at the time. I knew of Samuel R. Delany but had not read him either. The only writer I had read was Octavia E. Butler, whom I had come across when I was around 19 years old. Originally I thought I would make a documentary about the writers on the stage, but eventually with some research, the project expanded to discuss how Black people have been represented (and have represented themselves) in the genres in general. And so began my ten year journey, of producing Invisible Universe.

This event is very special to me because it is almost like a homecoming event, with people whom I greatly admire and respect as human beings and as creators of speculative fiction (SF) worlds, and who have on many levels become very important to me. Some I have not seen or spoke with in many years and others, I have ongoing professional relationships with, but all constitute, what I call, for better or for worse, my extended Black SF family.

Invisible Universe trailer (2011) from Mizan Media on Vimeo.

M.O.M.M. trailer (2011) from Mizan Media on Vimeo.