Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower Has Become a Timely, Afrofuturist Opera

Image: Paul Marotta/Toshi Reagon via Kickstarter

Last month, artist and performer Toshi Reagon launched a Kickstarter campaign to help finally realize a project that she and her mother, also a singer and writer, have been working on for almost a decade: a musical adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Now, the show is premiering in New York City.

Within 30 days of its launch, Reagon’s campaign blew past its initial $30,000 and now it’s debuting as the centerpiece of the New York City Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival, an annual showcase of theater companies’ works that are redefining contemporary theater.


Butler’s original novel follows a young girl named Lauren Oya Olamina who lives in a dystopian future besieged by climate change, wealth inequality, and political demagoguery. She becomes the founder of a new religion called Earthseed after she’s forced out of her L.A. gated community into the wild lands beyond her home. In addition to the anarchy that defines the larger world, Lauren struggles to deal with her unique superability to hyper-empathize with the feelings of others—a power that often causes her pain when she witnesses others in distress.

Parable of the Sower is widely recognized as one of Butler’s most prescient works, both because of its forward thinking about the growing scarcity of natural resources and the fact that the author predicted that the phrase “make America great again” would one day come to prominence. Speaking with The New York Times, Reagon explained while it’s easy to think that Butler foresaw Donald Trump’s path to the White House, it’s actually more accurate to see her usage of the phrase as a general reading of how strongmen appeal to the masses:

“It’s not that Octavia predicted him. It’s that she knew us so well and knew we would allow it to happen. That’s chilling. It gives me bumps on my arms.”

According to Reagon, her take on Parable of the Sower is best thought of as an opera, but the show’s music includes elements of multiple genres including blues, EDM, and, gospel.

Reagon’s Parable of the Sower opens next week at the Newman theater and runs from January 8-15.


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Charles Pulliam-Moore

io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.