‘Kindred’ author to speak at U of L

By on February 22, 2005

By Jordan S. Carroll

Octavia E. Butler, noted African-American science fiction writer and author of “Kindred” and the Xenogenesis trilogy, has been invited to give the creative keynote speech at the 20th Century Literature Conference being held at U of L this week. This is likely because “Kindred” has been the focus of a new program, Books in Common, proposed by Dr. Karen Chandler.

As a part of the program, the book was distributed for free to interested English majors. Students and professors also met together twice to talk about the book. Dr. Anne Elizabeth Willey and Chandler led the discussions.

“It’s an idea of a way to try to get the department to come together as a community. We look pretty seriously at those end-of-the-year surveys and one of the things that keeps coming back is that students feel alienated from the department, especially minority students,” Willey said.

The novel describes the travails of Dana, an African-American woman who is mysteriously transported from modern-day California to the antebellum South. There she must save Rufus, the son of a slave-owner and one of her ancestors.

Dr. Karen Kopelson has taught about “Kindred” three times in her English 310 classes. She’s found that the text explores numerous social issues.

“There’s a very common attitude, especially among white students, that racism no longer exists and almost every time I teach this text somebody at least makes that comment,” Kopelson said. “One of the most important [aspects] of the text to me is it forces us to have a discussion about the legacy of white racism … and the intermingledness of our history.”

Fantasy and soft or sociological science fiction allow authors like Butler to better explore these sorts of questions.

“You get lots of takes on issues of race and gender but in contexts that are different from other authors,” English professor Dr. Thomas Byers said.

Also, on Thursday, Feb. 24, at 6 and 8:30 p.m. there will be free showings of “Sankofa,” directed by Haile Gerima, at the Floyd Theater. It’s not an adaptation of the novel “Kindred,” but the film also concerns an African-American woman time-traveling back to the pre-Civil War era. It is sponsored by the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities as well as the Film Liberation Unit and the Student Activities Board.

Butler will give the creative keynote, “From Woe to Wonder: The Writing of Octavia E. Butler,” on Friday, Feb. 25, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in 101 Strickler Hall.

Butler will also teach a master class in the Bingham Poetry Room on Friday, Feb. 25 from 11 a.m. to noon. Attendance is limited to 40 and attendees are strongly encouraged to have read Butler’s book.

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