Documentary celebrates transformational impact of Octavia Butler's work at St. Kate's

Students, alums, community testify to the power of Butler-inspired integrated learning series
Toshi Reagon performing

Toshi Reagon, co-creator and composer of Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower concert opera, delivered the 2019 Kelly Lecture for International Women's Day.

Photo by Rebecca Zenefski Slater ’10 / By Rebecca Studios.

During the 2018–19 academic year, St. Kate's initiated an integrated learning series centering on the novel Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Conceived by Tarshia L. Stanley, PhD, Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences and founding president of the Octavia E. Butler Society, the series is an effort to link curriculum and programming across the University in ways that enhance experiential learning in the community. Now, a short documentary celebrates the ways in which Butler's work is impacting St. Kate's students and community through its presence in the University's learning series.

Butler’s Parable of the Sower, an opera by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon, was performed at St. Kate’s and was a touchstone for creative and intellectual engagement over the school year. Throughout the series, participants — including students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members — engaged with the novel's themes of change and adaptation in discussions, in and outside the classroom, and at community artist workshops. Other opportunities to engage included the concert version of Toshi Reagon’s operatic adaptation of the novel, her Kelly Lecture for International Women’s Day, and her numerous campus visits.

Watch the documentary

This documentary, produced by BFRESH Productions in collaboration with Junauda Petrus, Erin Sharkey, and Mychal Fisher, includes interviews with Tarshia Stanley, Toshi Reagon, and student leaders, among others who also participated in this year of transformational learning in community.

Butler's award-winning novel, published in 1993, takes place in a dystopian future of the 2020s in the United States. Butler's characters embody a deep capacity for resilience, intimacy, and hope in the face of violence and insecurity wrought by structural inequities, political corruption, and climate collapse. Over the years, the resonance of her oeuvre has transcended discipline.

"I came across people who were using her work, particularly Parable of the Sower, in economics classes, in political science classes, in history courses, in a biomedical ethics course, in ecocriticism courses," says Stanley. "It really is a tool for us … to get to that dream that the Sisters of St. Joseph were dreaming 100 years ago — to make sure that we figure out a way to help our dear neighbors, that we figure out a way to build women leaders and that we continue to do that into the next century.”

Adapted from the documentary Parable of the Sower Integrated Learning Series at St. Catherine University by Rebecca McDonald (BFRESH Productions), Junauda Petrus, Erin Sharkey, and Mychal Fisher.


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