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Project explores Octavia E. Butler novel through discussions, art, music

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Octavia E. Butler’s dystopian novel “Parable of the Sower” is centered around themes that seem particularly resonant today – climate change, economic instability, social chaos and government corruption.

The novel is the focus of a year-long project, Parable Path CU, led by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The project includes a community read and discussions of Butler’s novel, a related art exhibit and a Krannert Center presentation of an opera based on the novel.

“With the presentation of the opera came the opportunity to create a series of artist-engagement and community-engagement opportunities,” said Monique Rivera, the co-director of engagement for Krannert Center.

Creating connections for a community to explore the novel’s ideas is important to Toshi Reagon, the creator of the opera, Rivera said. Reagon is a composer, musician, musical director and producer who created the opera with her mother, the singer and composer Bernice Johnson Reagon. Their work, “Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” will be presented at Krannert Center Feb. 25-26.

“Toshi Reagon has shared that she hopes that the opera can inspire people to continue to explore the themes in the novel, whether it’s staying with Butler’s work or exploring other related works of literature or art,” Rivera said.

Book cover image for the grahpic novel adaptation of
Damian Duffy, a lecturer in the School of Information Sciences, and John Jennings, a U. of I. alumnus and former faculty member, created a graphic-novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.” Graphic courtesy of Damian Duffy

The University Library and residence hall libraries on campus; the Champaign and Urbana public libraries; and the Champaign Central, Urbana and University Laboratory high school libraries are participating in the community read of the novel. Each is hosting its own programming in connection with it, Rivera said.

On Nov. 11 at 7 p.m., the Urbana Free Library will host a Zoom discussion with Damian Duffy, an alumnus and lecturer in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Information Sciences.

Duffy wrote a graphic novel adaptation of “Parable of the Sower” with John Jennings, an alumnus of the School of Art and Design, a former Illinois faculty member and a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside. Duffy said they chose to adapt the novel because its themes seemed relevant today.

“It was in 2017, right after Trump was elected, and the climate catastrophe and income inequality in ‘Parable of the Sower’ seemed really appropriate. They are such prescient works,” Duffy said.

Duffy and Jennings previously collaborated on an Eisner Award-winning graphic-novel adaptation of Butler’s novel “Kindred.” Duffy wrote the script and Jennings created the images. Their publisher asked them to adapt another work by Butler, and they chose her Parable series – “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents.”

Image of a page from the graphic novel adaptation of
A page from the graphic novel adaptation of “Parable of the Sower.” Graphic courtesy of Damian Duffy

“Parable of the Sower” tells the story of a teenage girl living in a gated community that shelters its inhabitants from the chaos of poverty, homelessness, water shortages, disease and violence outside. In her fight for survival, the main character develops a new faith and a new community that will help create a more peaceful future.

“Butler wrote it as a warning of a dystopian future: ‘If what’s going on continues, this is the world we’re giving ourselves,’” Duffy said. “So many of the issues she touches on she got exactly right.”

During the Urbana Free Library discussion, Duffy will talk about the decision to adapt the Parable series and the technical process of creating a graphic novel.

Image of a page from the graphic novel adaptation of
A page from the graphic novel adaptation of “Parable of the Sower.” Graphic courtesy of Damian Duffy

On Nov. 16 at 7 p.m., the Champaign Public Library will host a Zoom discussion about foraging for wild food, which is referenced in the novel.  The library also is sponsoring a Zoom book club discussion of the novel on Dec. 9 at 1:30 p.m.

Many faculty members on campus are doing work that connects with the themes of the book, Rivera said, including graphic design professor Stacey Robinson. His work focuses on race, social justice, Afrofuturism and Black utopias. Black Kirby, his collaboration with Jennings, mixes references to superheroes and pop culture with images of Black identity.

The University YMCA is hosting “Future Spaces in Community Places,” an art exhibition featuring work by Stacey (BLACKSTAR) Robinson, Shaya (Chocolate Star) Robinson and Kamau (DJ KamauMau) Grantham.

“Star Gazers” is a collaboration between Stacey Robinson and Shaya Robinson that portrays a young Black girl using her journal to explore self-esteem, Black girlhood and ancestry.

“BLACKMAU” is a collaboration between Stacey Robinson and Grantham that examines Black futures and agency, dystopia and escape through digital collage, house music and animation.

The exhibition is on view through Dec. 17.

This article was originally published on the Illinois News Bureau website. Read the original article here.

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