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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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.

Hidden

For Every Black Man Waiting To Be Loved

Jurien Huggins via Unsplash

Hidden: An Audio Poem

she tricked you into thinking
you weren’t noticed — your smile
didn’t meet her in the middle,
yet I see you.

I watch as you struggle to exist
in a world bent on keeping you
hidden behind its sullen corners,
you are not what they expect

when they envision greatness.

I come to you, arms outstretched,
urging you to know my ways . . .
I want to calm your seas,
let me be your peace.

the caves for men aren’t designed
to home the wildest creatures,
we have to make our way —
we are not the boxing kind.

wrappers and bows.
garland and lights.
presentation is everything and
we put on a show.

come, dance in my direction.

I yearn to watch the little boy
emerge with his face aching
for the sunlight.
I know he’s there.

let me watch you
enchant this world around us,
give me the hope of a new season —
the flesh of a beating heart.

you haven’t allowed yourself
this kind of love in
nearly a lifetime, yet here I am . . .
flaunting it for you to touch.

I will not hide you, no . . .
not when something as beautiful
as you should be placed on the
front row of city buses.

no hesitations
no second thoughts
no reconsiderations

necessary.


Originally published on Medium.

What I Learn From the Black Men in My Life

Part III: Breathe, it gets better

Photo by Beth Tate on Unsplash

Two men: both of them I have known for more than fifteen years — they are close to me. I love them. I try my best to understand them. I want nothing more than to always support them. And I pray that this world sees the beauty in them just as I do. I thought, “How can I have the world listen to them for several minutes? What can I do to gift someone other than myself the opportunity to get a glimpse of walking in their shoes?” The idea that turned into the words you see before you. I asked them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today to see where it would take us. This is the third and final installment of this series.


It pains me somewhat to bring this series to a close, but a new project is already shaping itself in my heart and mind and will include snippets of their perspectives of this world from the various men and women in my life and will probably be a prose-poetry piece, so that is some consolation. Dre, like me, has been anxious for the publishing of each part of this series as we both wanted to see who our work would touch, speak to, and inspire.

He has been steadfast throughout this project — ready and willing to answer anything thrown his way and is supportive of every step we have taken to bring this project to light. It has been this project’s practice to begin with Dre and for this installment, that remains the same.

“While incarcerated, were you ever harassed for your arrest? Did other inmates attack or belittle you in any way? If so, how do you think that has shaped you?”

“I can’t say I was harassed at all. It didn’t change much of who I was. I was still quiet, reserved, and observant; as well as cool and down to earth. However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences. Funny thing is, being from Savannah, Georgia, you learn that there’s an unspoken brotherhood no matter if you knew any of the men prior to being incarcerated or if there was any type of hostility within any of them. In prison, Savannah stuck together, so there was no harassment from other cities. It shaped me to be alert in a sense, at all times, and always on guard — ready for the unexpected.”

However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences.

When I learned of Dre’s incarceration, I immediately thought, “I wonder how he held up. What happened to him and how did he survive it?” Dre’s incarceration took place while I was in college. I did not know about it until after his release. I knew him well enough before those years were taken away from him to know that he would survive this battle. I felt he would win that war. I was right. Every new day he is given is shaping him into the brilliant man that I know and reminds me of the persistent, observant, and inquisitive boy with whom I grew up.

“If you could say whatever you wanted to the arresting officers, what would it be?”

“I don’t know — really . . . I would ask why didn’t they investigate more to see if I was the person involved instead of just running with the first person (they could find) and probably the only person they thought was the criminal.”

Dre’s situation is one I have read about, one I have seen in movies — and one I learned about through word of mouth. I didn’t personally know of any cases of mistaken identity, cases of rushed or lack of thorough investigation, and cases of “arrest first, ask questions later” that hit so close to home. Dre has moved through the toughest part of his life and is an example of someone who is beating the odds.

My last question is one I thought I should ask — its relevance is pertinent to Dre’s life, what he has learned, and what he is enduring from it — both good and bad things.

“What advice would you give another young, Black man wrongfully accused, arrested, and incarcerated? How would you tell him how to survive while doing time?”

“ I would tell him: find a way to keep your mind active with some type of positivity. Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release. And although it hurts and even when you feel all alone, life isn’t over but you have to want to succeed more than you want to succumb to the environment around you. Trust me, you can make it out here once released despite the felony on your record. But it will take hard work and determination. It’s beyond possible.”

Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release.

I read through Dre’s responses. I sat with them and pulled the pain, anguish, and optimism from each one. He has sustained. He is sustaining. He has not been torn down. One of the things we both wanted to take place with this project is a connection — for someone to read this and feel it if they need to. Sometimes, it only takes one person to grasp something that has been said, share it with someone else, and the message moves without the messengers touching it.

This is our greatest hope for this project. As the years pile on, I know that my friend and I will continue to build upon what we have created and share our life’s experiences with those willing to hear them.

This is Dre. He is a loyal friend, a source of wisdom, beaten yet not broken, and a faithful follower of Christ. I have more to learn from him and I look forward to it.


Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

Vic has his running shoes on — chasing his dream. He is creating art at a faster than normal pace due to an upcoming art exhibit to be hosted in Austin, Texas, in December 2019. While he was working on his contributions to the exhibit, I worried this project would interfere with his creative output. It has not. He has been more than willing to [move forward and] finish what we started. For this, I am grateful. But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank. And since he is getting his affairs in order for what could be a momentous event in his life, I felt it only fair to build the questions of our last installment around his future endeavors.

“You will soon have the opportunity to showcase your work again. How will you use this event to your advantage?”

“I actually plan to wash and repeat the method of going to galleries that host the art of my interests and speak with the owners. It’s how this opportunity came together. This event is great for putting my name and work out there for sure.”

But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank.

“Being a man of color, specifically a Honduran (Black Hispanic), living in the South, have you found it harder to network and build a name for yourself and your art?”

“What has made things hard for me is my unwillingness to jump out there — really just a lack of confidence in my art. In my opinion, art could possibly be that one space on earth where talent brings forth a bit more of a level playing field.”

Vic’s response to my second question is one in which I too, have struggled — lack of or not enough confidence in my work. Until recently, I dwelled in the shadows of fear and did not take many chances when it came to sharing my work through various outlets and reaching out to publications of interest. Things began to change significantly when I removed the crippling aspects of fear from my daily habits of operation. The task now is to continue to pursue these connections I have made in hopes of continued growth and finding a bigger audience for my work. It is an eye-opener and a thing of beauty to see Vic doing the same thing.

“Have there been any helpful devices and tools for your art at your job? Or, is your job set up for functionality and production based on the company’s brand? How has this stifled your growth as an artist?”

“There have been ‘ah-ha’ moments at my job, so far as what I can do with the software. Creating or aligning customer provided graphics and making sure those graphics are screenprint-ready is my primary job. So, all in all, yes, there are helpful devices in aiding the functionality and production, which we’ve been busy with these past two months of which I am appreciative. Stifling? Well, there’s also that. I don’t do much vector work at home as I once did. (See: F.U. Robot.) But it has led me back to more analog pursuits like said art show coming up soon.”

Vic has learned that his work will not reach a bigger audience without some additional help from others within the industry in positions of being able to catapult his artwork to higher heights and he has also learned that the move in that direction begins with him. Asking him the questions I prepared for this project has opened up my creative world significantly. From Vic, I have found that if we remain silent in our creative corners or comfortable with our old ways of creativity, we will never reach our goals. It begins with us. We must push our art to where we want it. No one else will do it for us.

This is Vic. A fellow artist, a die-hard motivator, and a great friend. I believe as we grow older, we will become more comfortable and confident in our work and less afraid to share it. He is teaching me that we must have a starting point in order to finish. I look forward to the years ahead.


Enter a caption

This project is one of great importance to me and I am ecstatic simply because we have been able to come together as a team to finish this. We started off with an incredibly high level of momentum and I know the three of us have maintained it. Our purpose here is clear: to connect with others who may need to share their story but would benefit from a starting point or boost from someone else.

We’ve put our truths out in the universe. —Vic

When I think about how much I have learned and what I will learn from the men of color in my life, I become filled with joy and love. I am also filled with hurt, anguish, and some despair. There will always be struggles for anyone simply trying to move further along in life, however, these struggles are made harder for People of Color.

I want to thank both of these men for continuing this series with me and giving me more to digest as it pertains to life and the ways of this world for a man of color. Andre Murray and Victor Garcia — here you will find their voices. Here, you will find their hearts. To know the struggles of those I love and watch them excel despite their previous circumstances or take notice of how they press on without giving up stirs a sense of action in me.

I will not give up. I know the importance of breathing after all.

It does get better.


Originally published in Our Human Family via Medium.

Part I
Part II

The Life I Gave Him

The Struggle Is Worth It

Life off Screen by JD Mason via Unsplash

What does this picture say? I have an imagination that would bring itself back to life if it died, so instantly, I drum up a story. Who is this man? What is his story? What is his struggle? He stands, contemplating his next move, deep in thought, and utterly focused. What’s his background? I study him. I plant my eyes on an amazing creature and I think . . .

“What type of life can I create for him?”

He just received the crippling news from his wife — the small business loan they applied for through his local credit union two days ago was denied. For the last three years, they have prepped, devised a gameplan, created flyers, and reached out to local residents and business owners for sponsorship and the one thing that would help launch their small business was denied.

He thinks about their credit score, although not excellent, was in overall good standing — can’t be that. He thinks about their presence in their local neighborhood and both of them are upstanding citizens, well-known at their jobs and within their community — can’t be that. He stops to think about where they want to plant their small business and why and stays there with this thought for hours. For him and his wife, to have a recreational center in their urban neighborhood that also operates as an after-school tutorial location would be essential for many of the children who are struggling with their grades in school and who also need somewhere safe to be until their parents return home from work.

He stops to think about where they want to plant their small business and why and stays there with this thought for hours.

This was their dream. How could they deny it?

He huffs out a huge sigh and decides to cut work short and drive home early enough to beat the evening traffic. When he reaches home, his wife sits staring at the letter — a look of exhaustion is slapped on her face. She looks up to him and begins to sob. He gently takes the letter from her, glances over the first few lines, and then the beginning of the “rejection” paragraph . . .

Loan Rejection Letter Sample via Google (altered)

He sits down, defeated. The word “other” never looked so incriminating, so . . . distorted. He read over the rejection letter three times before putting it back into its envelope and placing it in their important documents file cabinet. He made one phone call. His uncle mentioned three weeks ago that if, “there is anything I can do to help steer y’all in the right direction Roman, just let me know” — his memory picked up on that conversation and his pride was swiftly pushed to the side. If anyone understood the all-too-exhausting plight of entrepreneurship, it was his uncle.

One phone call, twenty-five minutes, and some joy-filled tears later, the dream that seemed as though it was crushed was instantly thrown back into manifestation. They would have their recreational center/after-school tutorial program after all. When he heard his uncle say, “Roman, that ain’t nothing, youngblood. I was rejected three times before I was approved and now, I am blessed beyond measure. You name your number and I’ll write that check.”

If anyone understood the all-too-exhausting plight of entrepreneurship, it was his uncle.

Six months later, he and his wife host twenty-two children, employ a staff of twelve and have garnered a profit instead of a loss. The rec center has provided their community with togetherness, a sense of belonging, and a positive atmosphere for the children. The work they do is fulfilling as well as substantial for not just them, but for everyone connected to them. When he looks at his wife now, her face glows — happiness lives in her eyes.

This was their dream.

It lived because it had to.


Originally published via Medium. The link shared is a friend link as this is a piece behind Medium’s paywall. Thank you for reading.


The Life I Gave Her