Non-fiction Saturdays

Black Firsts: Octavia Butler

The “Queen Mother of Science Fiction”

Octavia E. Butler. Image via curiousfictions.com.

Octavia Butler, born on June 22, 1947, gifted us with a genre of writing we had not experienced from African-American artists and writers before her or alongside her. Her work transcended time, broke down universal barriers, and shifted the category of “science fiction.” She wrote with a vigilance that somehow felt oneiric yet quite real while reading her work.

We could have been her characters. We are her characters.

The way she beckoned a plot and described her settings could pull you from wherever you were while reading her books, short stories, and essays and deposit you to that very spot. She was mythical yet real. She was defiant yet obedient. She was skillful yet willing to learn more about her craft.

She was a writer I simply had to read. My first book by Octavia Butler was the enthralling and still incredibly popular, Kindred which was given as a reading assignment in my African-American Literature class when I was in college.

It is a story of a young writer (Dana) shifting through time, traveling from her current period of the 1970s in California back to the days of antebellum slavery in Maryland. There, in the throes of thriving slavery, she meets her ancestors (Rufus and Alice Greenwood) and experiences the life and times of what it meant to be enslaved, but in temporary doses brought on by dizzy spells that initiated the time traveling.

She was mythical yet real. She was defiant yet obedient. She was skillful yet willing to learn more about her craft.

Butler depicts just how painful the shifts in time can be by bringing on dizzy spells that land Dana in various places during the antebellum slavery days where Rufus always seems to be in some sort of trouble and Dana arrives in the nick of time to help him.

By her third trip shifting, she and her white husband Kevin are both placed at Rufus’ home where they had to prove to the young master that they are indeed from the future and their stay in that time gets longer and even more intense.

It is an invigorating and impressive read as well. However, I did not expect anything less given the reviews I read before diving into reading the book for the first time. Plus, my African-American Literature professor gushed openly about it and was sure it would change our lives after we read it. It changed mine.

I wanted to know more about this writer who was unafraid to test the waters and completely transform the way I looked at science fiction. Thus, over time, I bought Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Sower, and Fledgling. I was not disappointed. Butler shares her gift of diving into the unknown, encountering mystics, and the push and pull of spiritualism with every read. I read her work and want to know what was growing in her mind — how did she come up with the talented work she gave us?

Butler became a receiver of firsts. She was the first science fiction writer to earn the McArthur Fellowship, class of 1995. She was forty-eight years old when she received the award. A few accompanying her within this class was journalist Alma Guillermo Prieto, writer Sandra Cisneros, and filmmaker Allison Anders. Butler also won the Hugo Award and Nebula Prize respectively, for not one, but several of her written works; Bloodchild and Speech Sounds, and Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower.

She is also known as the “godmother of Afrofuturism” which is a title never bestowed upon anyone else. Much of her vision for her work can be seen in videos by Beyoncé, in episodes of Black Mirror, and in movies by Ava DuVernay.

Butler shares her gift of diving into the unknown, encountering mystics, and the push and pull of spiritualism with every read.

When I mention my favorite writers, she is on that list. I have written a few pieces that toe the line of science fiction, spiritualism, and fantasy because of reading her work. She inspired me to push the envelope and never be afraid to try new genres in writing.

Read: The Trinity Marson Two-Part Series and Calypso, the Robotic Woman

Octavia Bulter died at the age of fifty-eight on February 24, 2006, from a stroke. It is hard to believe that it has been nearly fourteen years since her death, however, the work she produced lives on. I will always remember her as the “Queen Mother of Science Fiction.” Butler’s body of work, the way in which she devoted her time and skills to encourage young writers via workshops, and public speaking about her personal growth in the sci-fi genre (which was traditionally dominated by white men) are symbols of Butler’s willingness to help writers hone their craft.

Also read: Sky’s Falling Girls

At first, I thought Butler’s work an esoteric brand, but as time passed, that view has changed. Not only is her legacy a strong one in the African-American community — she is widely known and acknowledged for her efforts and accomplishments as an African-American science fiction writer.

To Octavia Butler: the first to do so many things in the world of writing. There will never be another.


Originally published in Our Human Family via Medium. The link shared is a friend link as the piece is behind Medium’s paywall. Thank you for reading.

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Featured Writer for February

Ngang God’swill N. is a contributor to A Cornered Gurl and has been for quite some time. I have the great pleasure of watching this young man spread his wings and get rather vocal on Medium. Just from interacting with him and reading his work, I can tell that his heart is genuine and he has his mindset on reaching out to others and connecting with them too.

The piece I have selected to share is a non-fictional piece detailing the importance of letting boys express themselves, cry, and get emotional when they need to so that when they grow up to become men, they understand their emotions and know how to love genuinely and give vulnerable pieces of themselves to others. It is a letter in poetical-prose that touched me as soon as I read it.


Don’t Let Them Become Like Me

A letter to you all.

Hello you,

You may not have known or realized this, but remember all those times I couldn’t speak, that I shut the door and hid from you? Rember that I blocked you and rejected your calls. Do you remember all the days I couldn’t smile, when my voice was a shameful whisper?
I was begging you to save me.
I was begging you to read me, to reach me.

Photo by bimo mentara on Unsplash

It’s like this you see, a man must not cry. Must be bold and sharp, strong and enduring, like a super being. But where should I keep all this pain I feel boiling inside, this confusion that chokes me, this insecurity and fear that threatens to break me? Where should I keep these tears that drown my heart, flood my lungs and leave me gasping for air?

You fail to see that I am human too. When you cut me, I bleed; and when you kiss me, I feel those wild sensations too. I sleep when I get weary when my bones ache and my breath feels like a bath of boiling water. But you shut your eyes to all these and dish out violence upon my gentle heart. Stealing all the compassion, the love of my boyish heart, and the color of my toddler days. How much do you think I can take?

How can you now demand water from a rock? How can you ask me to give you love? Where do you think I will get it? I do not know love. Ask me for pain; that is all you’ve ever given me.

You were consistent in my dosage; generations, eras, millennia. It has always been the same, I remember. So ask of me pain, and I will give you all that you have given me, and like the good servant in the Bible; I will also give you all the proceeds it yielded.

I didn’t stop loving, the choice was never mine to make. Attention-deficit is all I have ever known, blindfolded and plunged into an illusion that tomorrow rests on my shoulders alone. Systematically, you heaped the world on my shoulders, one piece at a time till you could barely see me beneath it all. Slowly I slipped into the darkness underneath and sipped in the darkness. It was a gentle process, incessant and scheduled, till my soul became a shadow; with logic for a compass. Now you know why I dish out the most hurt;

Because I am even more hurt and broken than this world.

Somehow, in all this blackness, this journey of pain, abandonment, betrayal, and brokenness, you expect me to be something I’m not. Caring, sensitive, respectful; YOU LIE!

It is painful to scrape off layers accumulated over the years, I will have to relive all the wounds again; the fights and loneliness. The days I realized that my sister’s proper raising was more important than mine, that I was just not important.

How do you expect me to forget the entitlement lessons drilled into me on the battlefield, the silence where I battled with purpose and personality? Tell me how to forget family responsibilities on my shoulders at age twelve, or the pressure it brought. I was a man, RIGHT?!

How can I forget the sacrifices, the stories that haunt my mind; the horrors I have lived? The things I have done and the decisions I have taken that have caused so much hurt to people. Tell me how can I get back the pieces of my soul, the ones I traded to help fulfill my role as a man. Because I am at a loss, I am yet again in another chat with self; of purpose and personality. Will you let me find an answer again? ALONE!?

I have been a man all my life, and I understand what the pressure can do to one’s sanity. You can’t understand as I do, this penis is a personal cross.
Still, from the madness and insanity, I try to reach out to all that is mine. The love you stole from my heart, the laughter and warmth that once made me tick, the calm and cordial temperaments that once made me. The same things you denied me and gave my sister, then praised her over me, as though the choice was mine.

And it’s known that destruction is an easier path, but here, this pit, dismantling is near impossible. It is like having a go at a baobab tree, with a broomstick praying and hoping for a miracle; I will persist still. But for these little ones, these baby brothers you just birthed, please be kinder to them.

Here is a unique chance to right all the wrongs, to wash away the stain. Treat these lads right, tell them it is okay to cry, to love and to not always know the answer. Teach them that it is okay to be human, to make mistakes. Teach them that humanity is a team — brother and sister — and that life is a team sport.

Don’t let them become like me; let them be better.


Originally published inA Cornered Gurlvia Medium.

 

sound off

Photo by Noah Buscher via Unsplash

An Audio Poem for Ezinne Ukoha

they don’t expect you to
sound off . . .
your version of one . . . two
three . . . four
isn’t what they thought
counting would be.
you shout from the rooftops
of every dilapidated building,
saying what the world
wants all of us to deny.

“no justice. no peace.”
you do not rest in the throes
of ignorance, you carry a lightning bolt
solid enough to pierce through
the toughest skin
and light’em up.
from your lips come
the fruits of our labor —
an homage to an undying fight.

strength is you.
on a screen amongst millions, you
let your words fly,
uncertain if they can still
reach someone.

they do.
they can.
they will.
I am a follower,
a faithful reader too.

you are touching me.

if you ever feel like the
world is sitting on your shoulders
happy to be around weighing you down,
know that you’ve lifted hundreds up
and we would stand
at attention if it meant your words
could conjure up the next
uprising.

the love you have for
your people — for those oppressed
and shot down, unfortunate
and dismayed jumps out
of every offering
you have to give and we
could pay our tithes with
the amount of truth you
share and still have plenty
left over to help others.

you are the navy by yourself.

and many hate to see your
fleets coming, but you
attack at will.
you’re ready.
you aim.
and, you fire
hitting the target
every single time.

if passion had a partner,
it’d be you.
you are scaling bumpy
terrain yet you manage
to keep your breaths steady.
I pity the trolls.
they don’t have a chance —
you sass them educationally
with just the right amount
of hot sauce and butter . . .

you burn’em up.

the moment you refuse
to sound off is the moment
the world will miss
one of its gifts who
has been trying to save it
for decades.

rise up, Ezinne,
don’t ever let them
catch you falling.


*Author’s Note: I have been reading Ezinne for at least four years now and with each read, I can still feel the presence of her undying will to use her words to express/fight for/and push towards justice. Originally published in P.S. I Love You via Medium.

November 21, 2016, my first poem for Ezinne:

Non-fiction Saturdays

theblackvote
Photo by Bruce Davidson via The Civil Rights Movement Archive

Mister Charlie Has No Blues

Flash Creative Non-Fiction

An Audio Piece for Sam McKenzie Jr.

There were some, only a few — they wanted you to believe your best interests were at heart. They cared. They gave you underpaying jobs and called it “honest work” while dipping into your pay. They raped your wives — “sowing wild oats” and pillaging where they could. If you are property, you mean nothing. You are nothing. A calf had more value — a farm over your life . . . You, to them, were subhuman or not human, depending on who was speaking. Your backs — the commonplace for burdens and griefs, yet shedding tears offered you nothing. If you were given what you were due, that did not go unnoticed. It was praised and worshipped.

It hung over you like the holy good deed.

But, let them tell it — they were good to you. You had it all. A shed out back big enough to draw a circle in the middle of the common room and walk around it twice. A rickety shot-gun home, drafty year-round. This was your life until you wanted to live — until you figured out this was not living. And when brains met action, you were dangerous. You figured out a ground was meant to be stood upon and stand your ground, you did. And this was trouble.

Trouble . . .

For “Mister Charlie” who has no blues but too many black folks causing him tension. If you wanted more, knew you could get it, and were meant to have it . . . If you figured out that equality meant “for all,” they had a problem. Your voice was your weapon. Your feet were your vehicle. Your strength was your saving grace. The power of a race built to be resilient does not diminish. When all you have is your heart to guide you, your hands to push you forward, your faith to bless you, and your family to believe in you, nothing else matters.

You stomped. You ranted. You raved. You conducted peaceful marches and picketed for justice. Back and side doors, balconies, separate water fountains, the backseats of buses and trains . . . Segregation — separating you from the “better” race for your own good — for their own good. And what good did that do? Remember, the voice is a weapon. You sounded off — refusing seconds, scraps, and the bits and pieces that did not add up to your whole. You took the front seat. You spoke up. You realized that you had rights and rights you fought to get.

Bless the black man who knew he was more than just a black man . . .

Bless the black woman who got tired of being silent. The voice is a weapon. Shots fired. Bullets had no name. Words dig in deeper. Movements sparked up in your favor. The right to vote. Integration. Front doors opened. Floor seats became yours too. Oh, look at that bus now with you sitting up front — ain’t it a sight for sore eyes?

The work you did, have done, no one takes for granted. You washed your hands with the blood of your sisters and brothers who were slaughtered before your eyes. Nightmares haunted you at noon instead of deep into the night. When you are believed to be ghosts, people treat you like one. But you were never invisible.

You were never invisible.

And that’s what scared them.


*Author’s Note: I am currently reading Blues for Mister Charlie, a play, by James Baldwin. To say that it is moving would be a gross understatement. This piece is my “Thank You” to Sam for his tireless efforts and the ultimate weapon that is his voice. He is such a powerful writer & advocate for equality and justice for African-Americans and People of Color.


Originally published on Medium. The link shared is a friend link as this is a piece behind Medium’s paywall.

Afraid of Healing

Who are we if we don’t know pain? If we don’t grow from it? I had to reblog this because I read it and it hit me and it stuck with me.

Please visit the writer’s blog to comment there, should you want to. Peace.

INTROVERSE

In Their Own Words By Nathan Bond

Afraid to heal my deep wounds

Afraid life will be too simple

Afraid of missing the pain

Afraid I won’t have an excuse to disappear

Afraid I won’t need to scream at the top of my lungs when I’m too weak

Afraid I won’t grow without trauma

Afraid I’ll never be the same

I’m afraid of change

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