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Paying tribute to Octavia Butler

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LA Times

Jobs are scarce. Water is even scarcer. Pollution, racial tensions and general poverty have transformed Los Angeles into a dystopian wasteland dotted by pockets of privilege. Sounds like a page right out of 2008, except for the fact that it was written back in 1993, as the setup for Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction novel “Parable of the Sower,” set in 2025.

Writing at a time when there were few women writers and even fewer African American women in the sci-fi genre, the pathologically shy Butler produced a dozen novels and a handful of eerily prescient short stories before she died in 2006 at age 58. On Saturday, the second annual Leimert Park Book Fair will honor Butler, a Pasadena native, with a posthumous tribute.

“The closer we get to [2025], the more I think some of the things Octavia wrote about may be true,” says James Fugate, co-owner of Eso Won Books, Los Angeles’ only bookstore owned and operated by — and catering to — African Americans.

In addition to the tribute to Butler led by her friends and fellow authors Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, Leimert Park will host appearances by poet Nikki Giovanni, who will be in town to promote her forthcoming book and companion CD “Hip Hop Speaks to Children”; actress Kim Wayans, who co-authors the Amy Hodgepodge series of children’s books; and journalist and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson (“The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House”), who will lead his weekly political roundtable at 10 a.m. Saturday at Lucy Florence coffeehouse.

“The Leimert Park Book Fair was really a godsend when it came along,” Hutchinson says. “A decade ago you had several African-American-owned bookstores in relatively close proximity to where Eso Won now is. It’s critically important to have a venue to bring people together, especially young people, and emphasize the importance of books, reading and literature.”

Mystery writer Gary Phillips also emphasizes the communal nature of the festival, which last year drew approximately 5,000 visitors, according to Eso Won’s Fugate.

“I see doing the book festival as more than a way to promote my work, it’s a way to give back,” says Phillips. “Leimert Park has experienced this renaissance as an enclave of black culture, and I think the book fair is a great expression of that.”

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Written by Symphony

June 11, 2008 at 1:14 pm

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