In memoriam Octavia Butler: for chorus, orchestra, and speaker



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Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006), the first major African-American woman science fiction writer and the only science-fiction author to win the MacArthur "genius" grant, died from an accidental fall in February 2006. She is remembered for her work, which clearly fits into the science-fiction tradition, with imagined near- and far-future technologies, telepathy, aliens, space travel, and time travel. Yet Butler's stories are not clichéd space operas featuring white men in spaceship battles. Whatever the near- or far-future setting, the challenging themes that form the substance of Butler's writing are always power, dominance, slavery, and the complexity of human relationships. Butler's best-known works include the Parable novels (Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents), in which the main character Lauren Olamina writes a series of verses that become a new religion in an imagined near-future dystopian version of the United States. This dissertation is a composition for SATB chorus, orchestra, and speaker based on these verses and on quotations from Butler herself describing how she became a writer and the genesis of the Parable series. The musical setting of these quotations highlights parallels between Butler's novels and her own life. In the accompanying paper I analyze my process of extrapolating selected themes from Butler's life and work. My intent is to demonstrate how these themes are interwoven into the musical setting at many levels, and to show how the particular quotations and themes I chose to set musically reveal Butler's insights about present-day human experience on a larger scale.