Apocalypse Noish: Octavia Butler’s Opera May Be Prophetic

When did you first learn about “Parable of the Sower”?

My mom and I gave each other the book for Christmas when it first came out. I bought one for myself and one for her, and it did the exact same thing. Then under our tree, she was visiting, and we wrapped her up, but we could say we got the book for each other. We were already big fans. It was really funny. We are cute.

Have either of you met Octavia Butler?

We both met her separately. I don’t know about my mother’s adventure with her, but I met her in the early 2000s. Then later, in 2005, during the tour for her latest novel, Fledgling, she actually got [to the book signing] Before anyone else did, and I stood by it the whole time. And I said, “Are you here alone? Do you want me to stay with you?”

You and your mom asked her if you could adapt Parable of the Sower. What was her response?

She said, “I know I owe you and your mother a note, but you can do anything you want with my work. Go away, boy. Do whatever you want.”

How did you settle on this novel?

Toni Morrison invited my mom and me to teach a music course at his Princeton Atelier in 1997, and we had to teach by text, so my mom chose Like a Sower. We were actually just looking at the conditions in the book and then applying different music to those conditions and teaching the students that. But, then, we realized we could sing along to this book.

How did it feel to work with your mother?

I was really early in my career at that point, and I mostly sang with my band and did solo shows, and my mom was so busy she didn’t really have time. So, only later did we start making room for it. I wrote songs, I wrote songs. And we wrote songs together.