Reading Lauren’s spiritual awakening in Parable of the Sower and her questioning of the patriarchal Christian god of her Baptist father was very similar to my own experiences of being brought up as a Catholic. Her creation of the religion Earthseed where the emphasis is on your capacity to change oneself and so therefore shape the meaning of God opened me into rethinking my ideas on the differences between the dogma of a religion and the spiritual practice that underpins it. I’ve looked back at my own upbringing in the church and rather than resent it have begun to appreciate and explore how these practices have created communities of resistance against white oppression – the African-American church and the syncretic religions of the Caribbean being examples.
Every issue we write a letter to an author that has inspired and influenced us. For our Diverse Reflections issue, Chardine Taylor-Stone thanks Octavia Butler for carving out a space for her in the fantastical world.
I am writing to say thank you for carving out a space for me in the fantastical world. I was able to lose myself in books before but what I saw in the mirror never matched what was described on the page. Thinking back I wonder what affect the feeling of not existing in the uncanny has on the mind of a child. How one’s imagination, surely a place of complete freedom, is forcibly chained to the realities of living in a white supremacist nightmare. A nightmare I can’t seem to wake from. It wasn’t until I was much older and I started reading that I could feel myself escaping from this place.
In Wildseed, Anyanwu’s struggle with the loneliness of being the only one of her kind who can morph into any living creature touches upon the alienation of the Black female experience. I have yet to work out how to turn into a dolphin like her, but I know that as a Black woman I already possess an extraordinary ability to transform my being into what I believe is expected of me. I often saw this as a hindrance but maybe there is a way, like Anyanwu, that I could harness the power of this ability to free myself from oppression. I’m not sure how just yet, it may take a few more chapters of my life but if I don’t get there, like yours are for me, maybe one day my story will be the beginning of someone else's. This is what I have learned from you in the worlds you have created.
It is because of these lessons that your stories are a truer reality to me.
"...maybe there is a way, like Anyanwu, that I could harness the power of this ability to free myself from oppression."
In Kindred, Dana is transported back in time to the antebellum South and finds herself having to defend and nurture her white slave owning ancestor. You never held back on your descriptions of the violence towards the slaves, but unlike other authors who use Black bodies as objects through which to showcase society’s problems, you gave them their stories and humanity. We knew their dreams, their loves and their heartbreak. Sometimes it was difficult to read as it really shone a light on how much of my own history as a women of Caribbean descent is soaked in blood and suffering. My family surname is that of a slave-owner; did he rape my ancestors like Rufus did to Dana’s? These are questions that are sometimes too painful to reconcile but I applaud you for how you approached it. Dana showed her agency, eventually freeing herself from this legacy. Regardless of a lost name or language, we as Black women amongst the former slave diaspora can forge our own identities from a place of power and independence.
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