Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower”
In a dream pairing of artistic personalities, two titans of Black American music collaborate on a new congregational opera based on the work of an iconic and revolutionary Black author. Singer, composer, and activist Toshi Reagon and her mother, legendary artist Bernice Johnson Reagon (of Sweet Honey in the Rock fame), bring science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler’s deeply resonant and startlingly prescient Parable of the Sower to life in an evening-length opera directed by Cal Shakes’ Eric Ting and Signe V. Harriday. Butler’s 1993 book and its sequel follow a young Black woman through a dystopian, apocalyptic American future, planting the seeds of a new religion that is fueled by empathy and collective action.
Though the novels reveal some of our darker impulses as humans, in the end, the Reagons’ message is one of hope, revealed through the communal act of music making: “Don’t forget: Octavia is writing about the universe,” Johnson Reagon has said. “She’s saying that our destiny is to be amongst the stars…. We’re a part of something amazing.”