February Meeting Recap: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Updated: Jun 1
Hello Hardcover Hotties, revisiting meeting attendees, and prospective readers! Here are the relevant discussion topics & themes engaged with during our March 5 meeting on Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.
All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change. God is Change. EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING (Butler, Ch. 1)
In celebration of Black History Month, this February we engaged with the work of Octavia Butler -- a leader in the widely expansive Afrofuturism movement and a seminal creator in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Set in 2025, Parable of the Sower follows the story of Lauren Oya Olamina, a hyperempath surviving in a world plagued with anarchy, violence, disease, and climate desolation. Butler positioned us as readers to confront the parallels of her dystopic imagined future to our own complex world, forcing us too to reflect on our relationships to our own religious and educational upbringings as well as (importantly) our understandings of change.
Below, you will find a series of "things to think about" posed at the beginning of the meeting by discussion moderators, as well as an outline of some of the themes, discussion topics and media recommendations touched upon throughout. If you weren’t able to make it to the meeting, or are curious as to how Hardcover Hotties meetings work, check out the Zoom recording on our Youtube channel @hardcoverhottiesbookclub.
Seeds for Thought
Discussion questions and “seeds for thought” posed by discussion moderators at the beginning of the meeting, some of which were informed and inspired by the work of adrienne marie brown & Toshi Reagan in their podcast, “Octavia’s Parables.”
What is your positive obsession?
What are everyone’s interpretations of the introduction?
What are our relationships to change?
How is change necessary for / central to liberation work?
Who or what is your God? What makes you feel special and protected?
Who carries the burden / labor of empathy? How does one protect oneself from the harm that it could cause?
How does Lauren turn to indigenous knowledge to inform survival in her climate-torn world?
What utopias are present in Parable of the Sower? What dystopias? How do these relate to our world now?
How does speculative fiction, which in Butler’s stories incorporates social and political issues, explore these issues?
How do stories like Butler’s harness non-linearity, and what does this mean for the audience?
How does science fiction inform liberatory solutions?
What are your recurring dreams?
How are you anticipating/preparing for potential technological shifts? What are the compromises that you are currently making with technology?
How do you honor rain and water?
What’s in your emergency kit/go pack?
Prodigy is, at its essence, adaptability and persistent, positive obsession. Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all. EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING by Lauren Oya Olamina (Butler, Introduction)
Here are some of our “positive obsessions” that folks shared:
Animals (stuffed and real)
Intentionally consuming media
BBQ sauce and DILLIGAF
Going on walks
Cats, crocheting, dancing in the rain
The Burdened Empath / The Labor of the Educator
RECEIVE THROUGH LOVE WITHOUT CONTENTION. WATER THE FLOWERS THAT GROW.
Who carries the burden / labor of empathy? Drawing on Lauren’s experience as well as personal experiences, the burden of empathy – the act of feeling deeply, understanding, and sharing experiences of pleasure, but seemingly most often experiences of pain – is often weighed upon those who are hurt first. In her dystopic violence-ridden world, empathy can be characteristic of an intense emotional labor to no end.
Empathy requires complex navigation – everyone has privileges and being an understanding person while also giving up one’s privilege is a constant battle.
Oppression demands us to look at the world in terms of relationships. Prejudice in all its forms negatively impacts everyone. Community thinking is central to liberation.
Who is ready for educating? Who is best to do the educating? How do we create conditions when information is best received? Lauren’s work as an educator in her community is admirable at best. She puts immense dedication and attention into the words, founding values, and ideologies of Earthseed, as well as the ways in which it is communicated to and shared with those around her with a focus on community liberation. We learn from Lauren that systemic change requires support on all levels and that leadership is most effective when it is made as accessible and open to questioning as possible. Open conversation is one of the most radical practices available to everyone – seek to understand, people want to be heard.
When thinking in terms of learning and educational practices, safety – of both the educated and the educator – and connection-building needs to be at the forefront. With the uncertainty that comes with potential miscommunications and missteps, there is often room left for harm done and even cooptation or reworking of practices and ideologies by those in power.
Book connection: Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
At what point is ignorance culpable?
God & Change
God is neither good, nor evil, neither loving nor hating. God is Power. God is Change. We must find the rest of what we need within ourselves, in one another, in our Destiny. EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING (Butler, Ch. 20)
Who or what is your God? As readers, our approach to and analyses of Butler’s story are deeply informed by our own experiences with and relationships to change and religion, as well as what we have come to know of the world as it is. As a result, she – through the words and ideas of Lauren – presents a theory of both that starkly contrasts common understandings of the matter.
“God is Change” defines God as a nonbeing, neither good nor evil, subjective even. Religious positivity is neutralized at the point which one is called upon to create their own God.
Butler’s conception of God is reminiscent of – yet intentionally distinct from – Daoist philosophies of change, and Buddhist conceptions of nonattachment.
Book connection: Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
“It was more than dignity. Integrity? Wholeness? Like a block of wood not carved. The infinite possibility, the unlimited and unqualified wholeness of being of the uncommitted, the non acting, the uncarved: the being who, being nothing but himself, is everything.”
What are our relationships to change? Butler identifies markers of change throughout the story as particular generational passings and evolutions of goals and longings over time. In reflecting on our own relationships to change, folks noted how deeply scary and inherently uncertain it can be; though, at its core, change is a constant.
How is change necessary for / central to liberation work?
Speculative Fiction & Imagined Futures
Butler’s work has been critiqued as a work of science fiction that there is “no science” in the book. What does this tell us about the biases behind Western science, and what is considered science? In Parable of the Sower, Lauren turns to indigenous knowledge to inform her survival in her climate-torn world. Throughout the book, acorn bread is a frequent motif of such ideas, where she constantly refers to the necessity for turning to indigenous knowledge, and emphasizes the fact that her survival is based on it.
Book connection: Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
How have people of color imagined futures? Nonlinear worldbuilding is central to Butler’s storytelling. The flex of spacetime in Butler’s writing allows us to see her characters interacting in reimagined social and political environments – tying together past, present, and future in mapping the demise of the world as we knew it and know it, while informing theories of race and justice throughout.
Book connection: Octavia Butler, Kindred
How do we situate ourselves in the class structure of the narrative? At times, Butler’s words feel prophetic. There is immense closeness in time and proximity to the world events happening in the book. Speculative fiction, in part, has the potential to provide a checklist for the themes that we must be paying attention to in real-world liberation work.
Conceptions of apocalypse are deeply subjective. People existing in the racial and gender minority and its intersections often have apocalypse, and various understandings of it, living within them.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
Octavia Butler, Kindred
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
The Last of Us (2023 - )
The Wire (2002 - 2008)
adrienne marie brown & Toshi Reagon, Octavia’s Parables Podcast
We hope to see you next time! (*^ ‿ <*)♡
Happy Women's History Month! This March, we will be reading Marjane Satrapi's Broderies (Embroideries) -- a graphic novel that follows an afternoon of tea and family stories of navigating womanhood, relationships, sex & love. Join us on April 2 at 5PM EST over Zoom at go.osu.edu/hardcoverhotties. All are welcome! ♡