Happy birthday, Octavia Butler! Here's an exclusive excerpt from her forthcoming biography

Octavia Butler was a visionary science fiction writer who predicted the rise of an American politician who would rise to power with the slogan “Make America Great Again” in her 1998 novel Parable of the Talents. She would have turned 73 today, June 22, had she not died suddenly in 2006 of a stroke. But the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author who explored themes of gender fluidity, climate change, authoritarianism, and the rise of Big Pharma is perhaps more widely read now than ever, and that phenomenon is destined to grow with the publication Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi, due out in January of 2022.

(via Yahoo! News)

Zakiya Dalila Harris on her debut novel, 'The Other Black Girl'

Novelist Zakiya Dalila Harris spoke to Orange County Register about her new book ‘The Other Black Girl‘, racial diversity within fiction, and influences on her work such as James Baldwin and Jordan Peele:

Code-switching maybe matters less now than it would have two years ago because of George Floyd. On positive days, I think these conversations are allowing Black people to speak up more. On negative days, I think that’s only because it’s in vogue for now and you can only speak up so much. 

We know why diversity is important in a lot of ways, but I wanted my book to look at how it influences each person on an individual level.

Q. Were you worried about pulling the rug out from under readers or was that the goal?

It’s my first book, so I’m not saying it’s perfect. But I love twist endings and “The Twilight Zone,” and “Get Out” was definitely an inspiration. I definitely knew where it was going when I started writing. I love the end of “Night of the Living Dead,” which is so realistic about Black experience. It’s still America, so stuff is going to happen to you if you’re Black. 

People asked, “Are you sure about this ending?” Yeah, I think it’s pretty necessary. Any other ending wouldn’t be as impactful. I really want people to talk about what happens to Nella and what could her [White] co-workers have done if they’d really been listening. 

When I was a kid, I used to love the Goosebumps series, and they had a choose your own adventure and I loved that there were multiple possible endings; I left some things open with this book so readers can think about it. I didn’t want to tie the ending in a neat bow. 

Wislawa Szymborska had the best writing advice

Polish essayist and Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from people seeking poetry advice for Poland’s Literary Life. Here are some of the best bits:

To Heliodor from Przemysl: “You write, ‘I know my poems have many faults, but so what, I’m not going to stop and fix them.’ And why is that, oh Heliodor? Perhaps because you hold poetry so sacred? Or maybe you consider it insignificant? Both ways of treating poetry are mistaken, and what’s worse, they free the novice poet from the necessity of working on his verses. It’s pleasant and rewarding to tell our acquaintances that the bardic spirit seized us on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and began whispering mysterious secrets in our ear with such ardor that we scarcely had time to take them down. But at home, behind closed doors, they assiduously corrected, crossed out, and revised those otherworldly utterances. Spirits are fine and dandy, but even poetry has its prosaic side.”

To Esko from Sieradz: “Youth really is an intriguing period in one’s life. If one adds writerly ambitions to the difficulties of youth, one must possess an exceptionally strong constitution in order to cope. Its components should include: persistence, diligence, wide reading, curiosity, observation, distance toward oneself, sensitivity to others, a critical mind, a sense of humor, and an abiding conviction that the world deserves a) to keep existing, and b) better luck than it’s had thus far. The efforts you’ve sent signal only the desire to write and none of the other virtues described above. You have your work cut out for you.”

To Michal in Nowy Targ: “Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counseled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defense one of the most esoteric poets in world literature—and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!”

To B.L. from the vicinity of Wroclaw: “The fear of straight speaking, the constant, painstaking efforts to metaphorize everything, the ceaseless need to prove you’re a poet in every line: these are the anxieties that beset every budding bard. But they are curable, if caught in time.”

To Zb. K. of Poznan: “You’ve managed to squeeze more lofty words into three short poems than most poets manage in a lifetime: ‘Fatherland,’ ‘truth,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘justice’: such words don’t come cheap. Real blood flows in them, which can’t be counterfeited with ink.”

Thanks to Zito Madu for tweeting this out (and check the rest of the thread for more great insights from the likes of Flannery O’Conner, Susan Sontag, and Jose Saramago. And the title is all his too; credit where credit’s due).

Donate to the TLF Freelance Emergency Fund

My dear friend Keidra is the co-founder of The Learned Fangirl and they have an emergency fund for freelancers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More info:

As a small indie publisher, The Learned Fangirl has always been committed to uplifting the voices of writers from marginalized groups.

The COVID-19 outbreak has made times especially difficult for freelance writers. Many have not been paid for outstanding invoices or no longer have work coming in for pay. We want to help in any way we can to support rent, food, utilities, and other needs.

In partnership with our nonprofit fiscal sponsor Independent Arts & Media, The Learned Fangirl has created the TLF Freelance Emergency Fund to support freelance culture writers who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Our priority is arts and culture writers who self-identify as being from a marginalized identity (ex. person of color, Indigenous, disabled, LGBTQ)

As the fund is running low at the moment, I urge you to donate if you’re in a position to do so as freelance writing is hard at the best of times. It would help a lot of writers from marginalised groups continue working and give us the best cultural pieces we’ve ever written.

Donate to the TLF Freelance Emergency Fund today.

5 brilliant and possibly obscure Black authors

Tina Charisma compiled a list of 5 brilliant Black authors you need to know about but might not for Harper’s Bazaar.

The contributions of Black authors cannot be underestimated, from their creation of spaces, to their critical take on socio-political issues, culture and science. Black writers have helped carve out trails of the Black experience historically, while also changing mindsets and perceptions.

Naturally, the list didn’t feature the usual suspects—James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou—but there was one name I recognised: Octavia Butler. She was best known for her work in science fiction, putting Black characters and the forefront of a genre known for its racism towards humans of colour and aliens (acting as avatars for people of colour).

Here are 5 links* for some the books referenced in the list:

  1. Corregidora (1975)
  2. So Long A Letter (1979)
  3. Kindred (1979)
  4. Death and the King’s Horseman (1973)
  5. The Joys of Motherhood (1979)

* – These are Bookshop affiliate links where a small portion (10%) of the sale goes to me and the rest go to independent bookstores.

Copyrighted works from 1925 enter the public domain today

Cover art for The Great Gatsby

Happy new year to you all. I sincerely hope 2021 is better than 2020 (unless you’re Jeff Bezos).

Today is Public Domain Day again and that means copyrighted works from the US from 1925 are open to all. (For more information on it, we wrote about it in 2019.) The official Public Domain Day 2021 page explains why this year is so good:

In 2021, there is a lot to celebrate. 1925 brought us some incredible culture. The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. The New Yorker magazine was founded. The literature reflected both a booming economy, whose fruits were unevenly distributed, and the lingering upheaval and tragedy of World War I. The culture of the time reflected all of those contradictory tendencies. The BBC’s Culture website suggested that 1925 might be “the greatest year for books ever,” and with good reason. It is not simply the vast array of famous titles. The stylistic innovations produced by books such as Gatsby, or The Trial, or Mrs. Dalloway marked a change in both the tone and the substance of our literary culture, a broadening of the range of possibilities available to writers, while characters such as Jay Gatsby, Hemingway’s Nick Adams, and Clarissa Dalloway still resonate today.

Below you will find a list of applicable works from 1925. Always remember to check works from any years prior to 1925 to make absolutely sure you follow any licence requirements (if there are any). And below the list is a Disney cartoon from 1925 not featuring Mickey Mouse.

A list of lists of public domain works from 1925

Walt Disney - 1925 - Alice Solves the Puzzle

Love from a Black perspective

My Dad has always been full of wisdom. He once described love to me as a pure and positive force that could not take any other form but itself. He said that actions that were jealous, angry, or otherwise ego-driven weren’t in the name of love. And that stuck with me ever since.

I look back at how I’ve received love and a lot of them were in forms my father decried as false. I’ve tried my best to love as purely and openly as possible. It has backfired a lot but I don’t regret what I did or how.

And that got me thinking about how love has been discussed by some of the great Black scholars and thinkers of our times and in this article, I’d like to share some with you.

“Love is divine only, and difficult always.”

Toni Morrison

“Love is where you find it. And you don’t know here it will carry you. And it is a terrifying thing [love]. It’s the only human possibility but it’s terrifying. And a man can fall in love with a man, a woman can fall in love with a woman. There’s nothing that anybody can do about it.”

James Baldwin

“Love is space. It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are. That is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us.”

Angel Kyodo Williams

“Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
“Good night”
no matter how young or old you are”

Nikki Giovanni

“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”

Zora Neale Hurston

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

Dr Maya Angelou

“Love quiets fear.”

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents

Albert Murray on race, jazz, and modernism

albert murray

Tim Keane wrote an essay on jazz writer Albert Murray for Hyperallergic. He touched on Murray’s life and his work examining modernist art and jazz:

In Murray’s view, jazz converts psychological pain and its vernacular offshoots into ritualized, polytonal, integrated music and dance. Jazz adapts and expands the written scores that the musician follows and ultimately surpasses; its best improvisers are extemporizing formalists learning from and competing with the innovations of peers, collaborators, and forerunners. Its refinements universalize the particular, dissolving personal history and psychosocial baggage, and call participants into the mythic dimension — an aesthetic realm that involves getting on the dusty dance floor.

There was also a brief critique of Murray’s 1970 essay collection, The Omni-Americans:

The book dismantles American Black separatism as a regressive, escapist fantasy that cedes the premise of white supremacy — the Balkanization of the country by race — to the nation’s bigots. Though he necessarily deploys them to make his points, misleading or reductive labels infuriate Murray, who believes that being American involves being neither wholly Black nor wholly white, while insisting that Blackness be defined as a characteristic as primarily American as whiteness has been since the country’s founding.

Fifty years on, such liberal hypocrisy is endemic to hyper-gentrified gluten-free neighborhoods, where Black Lives Matter posters hang in the windows of pricey condos, boutiques, and galleries — stretches of real estate that once housed working-class Black families and businesses.

Grab a copy of The Omni-Americans on Amazon and read Tablet Magazine’s review of the book on its 50th anniversary.