Thursday, April 3, 2008

CFP: Octavia Butler, 1947-2006

I did a !!cheer!! when I saw this over at Feminist SF--The Blog!

Call for Papers

Octavia Butler, 1947-2006

“I don’t like most utopia stories because I don’t believe them for a moment. It seems inevitable that my utopia would be someone else’s hell.” (Butler, in response to her short story “The Book of Martha”)

The characters in Octavia Butler’s novels and short stories are often faced with circumstances that are quite hellish. Further, the dystopian leanings of her work might imply that her rejection of utopia is as complete as the quotation above suggests. And yet Butler’s work is deeply informed by utopian impulses.

This special issue of Utopian Studies will celebrate the breadth and depth of Butler’s work and her constant questioning of human potential. We invite previously unpublished papers that address utopian and dystopian themes in any of Butler’s work. We welcome analyses from multiple disciplines and theoretical approaches. Comparative essays and reminiscences that engage the utopian and dystopian themes in Butler’s work will also be considered.

Deadline for completed papers, August 1, 2008.

Inquiries and papers to either Claire Curtis (CurtisC at or Toby Widdicombe (afrtw at

Toby Widdicombe, Ph.D
Professor, Department of English
Editor, “Utopian Studies”
University of Alaska Anchorage
3211 Providence Drive
Anchorage, AK 99508


Of course, race is conspicuously absent from the call itself, but I'm going to be an idealist. I'm going to hope that this issue is full of writing that theorizes intersections between blackness, kinship, sexuality, violence, class, and femininity--all of which are at play in Butler's "dystopian leanings" and undergird her "utopian impulses."

And if I don't get that, I'm going to hope that any "utopian" aspects of Butler's writing aren't taken too far. There is something to be said for how Butler's work unsettles science fiction and fantasy, what has traditionally been a space of white male escape (escape which often finds its climatic outlet in fantasies of colonialism and patriarchy). And I think that Butler resisted regurgitating a triumphant or congratulatory narrative, in part, for this very reason.

In her work, life is painful, even sickening. The past is always looming. And utopia isn't the reality that we live, work, eat, sleep, and die in--it is the vision of peace that we strive towards.
Hope is there--in bits and pieces. It is there after falls and failures, after backtracking, losing ground, losing friends, sometimes starting all the way over, and sometimes admitting that you will have to wait until the next lifetime before the process you've put into motion will come into fruition.

Before your family will be safe (Parable of the Sower) or your community will be free (Xenogensis Series).

Before your true history can be revealed (Kindred).

All of these are matters that seem too complex and heavy for a code word like "utopia" to lift....

But I'm going to be an idealist. This time. So back to my --ooh.


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