Sowing a Parable for our Times: Octavia Butler’s PARABLE OF THE SOWER as a concert


Science fiction writing is dominated by male writers, but Octavia Butler (1947-2006) became one of the genre’s most celebrated writers, winning the field’s top awards and drawing readers well beyond the traditional SciFi audience. Her well-regarded later work, Parable of the Sower (1993) depicts a 2020s California after the collapse of civilizations. It’s protagonist, Lauren Olamina, suffers from the gift of “hyperempathy”—she feels physical pain witnessing the emotional pain of others.

Butler’s work has been adapted into PARABLE OF THE SOWER: THE CONCERT VERSION by musician Toshi Reagon and her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon. Singers sit in a circle and perform African-American spirituals, soul, rock and roll, and folk music. According to Reagon’s program notes, the adaptation uses the music and text to “explore the idea of family—the one you choose—the one you find”. It premiered this January at New York Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and has its Philly premiere this week with four performances at the Annenberg Center.

Butler’s dystopian future seems especially relevant, with its “a widening economic gap, privatization of what was once public resources, rampant corporate take-over, 21st century sharecropping, drugs, violence and an overwhelming disregard for life.” Can we find respite in comradeship and song? Stars Bertilla Baker, Helga Davis, Karma Mayet Johnson, Tamar-kali, Morley Kamen, Marcelle Davies Lashley, Josette Newsam Marchak, Shayna Small and Jason C. Walker, with music from Robert Burke, Fred Cash, Juliette Jones and Adam Widoff. Eric Ting directs.

[Harold Prince Theatre, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut Street] October 1-3, 2015;

Interview with Toshi Reagon:

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.