Raising Olamina: Emergent Parenting in the Time of the Parables (by Dr. Ayana Jamieson)

This week’s guest blogger is Ayana Jamieson, PhD. Dr. Jamieson is an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, a mythologist, and depth psychologist. She is the founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network, a global community founded in 2011, committed to highlighting Octavia Butler’s life and work while creating new works inspired by Butler’s legacy. Dr. Jamieson’s, “Far Beyond the Stars” appears in the Black Futures anthology. She has also published in The Feminist Wire, 51 Feminist Thinkers, Uneven Futures: Strategies for Community Survival from Speculative Fiction, Public Books, elsewhere and was a featured speaker at the New York Times “A New Climate” on climate change. Follow her @ayanajamieson @oeblegacy on FB and IG or @oeblegacy on Twitter & Tumblr.

A book can start an entire journey. In my case, the books of the late pioneering Black woman speculative fiction writer, Octavia E. Butler changed the trajectory of my entire life. My origin story related to her work has been shared many times, but I want to talk about what it means to be “raising Olamina” after a character in a book the same age as my non-fictional children. In fact, I used my child’s remote schooling desk to record this interview with NPR’s Throughline Podcast, “Octavia Butler: Visionary Fiction” in 2021. Her work explores different ways of being human with diverse and expertly rendered characters. 

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was a little girl who grew up in Jim Crow California and has become one of the most celebrated cultural figures in the galaxy. The author of more than 11 published novels, a collection of short stories, many essays and a trove of her life’s work catalogued at the Huntington Library, Butler grew up shy and poor, the daughter of a domestic worker, a girl who told herself stories and then began writing them down when she had never read a word written by a Black person. Besides the science fiction genre’s highest honors and a MacArthur Grant, she holds the distinction of having the place where the Perseverance Rover touched down on Mars named Octavia E. Butler Landing, an opera, a television series, and more.

“Welcome to ‘Octavia E. Butler Landing'” | NASA.

The book I am drawing from in this post, Parable of the Sower, was originally published in 1993 with a rapidly approaching 2024 timeline. A group of climate refugees led by a young Black woman teenager must leave their walled enclave in a California suburb on foot and walk north up the state highways to safety. This novel references a nation beset by climate change, widespread illness, economic collapse, scarcity of necessities, and yes, a zealot politician running on the platform to “Make America Great Again.”

My children have been an integral part of my life as a scholar. My oldest child attended the dissertation defense of Dr. Sharon D. Johnson while still in diapers (he handed our professor Dr. Jennifer Leigh Selig his sippy cup), before attending my own defense a couple years afterward and hooding ceremony the next year before he’d even entered Kindergarten. I spent the entirety of my second pregnancy at the Huntington Library researching in the Butler archives to the extent that people worried I might go into labor while I was there (I did not). The kids have been with me while planning things like Ferguson is the Future conference with Drs. Moya Bailey and Ruha Benjamin, which I attended with a newborn in tow, the Shaping Change Conference with Dr. Shelley Streeby the next year, and the Octavia E. Butler Studies conference. I took my kids to Pasadena City College with me to accompany my students at their conference presentations and to faculty trainings I was participating in and many meetings. The math (and the Parables timeline) just happens to line up.

Photo from the Shaping Change Conference in 2016 by @Laura_Luna (Instagram).

Raising Olamina is this convergence between my home life and my life’s work as Creative Director of Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network. My research (and most of my jobs as an adult) have been a way to revisit myself at earlier life stages, develop agency in the same way Octavia describes how she crafts characters or draws from real life: “I really enjoy doing this sort of thing—along with going back and winning some of the battles I actually lost.” This is a variation on her famously inspiring quote “Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” Every story I read helps me retrieve abandonedneglectedunderdeveloped, and longed-for parts of myself in a safe environment. Books are my religion.

My understanding and relationship to Butler’s texts have been transformed in my relationship with others as I have gained new experiences as a partner, scholar, and parent. In grad school I realized that I had grown up near where she lived and that almost all of her books were published in my lifetime. Her stories are universal, but they often prominently feature California and themes that inspire justice and culture workers of all kinds.

In the Parable of the Sower Lauren Oya Olamina was born July 20, 2009. She shares a birthday with her father, Reverend Olamina who was born in 1969. Lauren’s father is older than I am, but like the reverend, I became a parent later than many of my peers, and like Lauren, I have two mothers, one who birthed and raised me and another who also raised me once she married my father. Lauren’s mother died in childbirth, but I often wonder about this Black woman who birthed a precocious and brilliant child. The Olaminas turn 15 and 55, respectively at the start of the book published in 1993, exactly 30 years ago, yet takes place beginning in 2024. 

Moya Bailey and I have been celebrating the Season of Change at this time of year for several years, it happens every year between Feb 24th when Octavia transitioned to the realm of the ancestors to her re/birth on June 22nd each year. We invite people to celebrate her life with us by working to:

  1. learn a new skill,
  2. use #BecauseOfOctavia to share the ways you are making art, life, poetry, work that is shaped by her legacy with us and on social media
  3. Extend your web of awareness to include your loved ones and chosen kin,
  4. Invest in analog forms of communication (keep a journal, send a letter/postcard and so on)
  5. Begin to prepare for Lauren Oya Olaminas on July 20 so we can start celebrating our next holiday!

Indeed, as a parent, I get invited to read to and along with my kids and follow their interests. While the wooden trains (bears, cars, mops, construction vehicles, so many planes) and other interests have been abandoned for new special interests, our love of books and reading have remained constant. I often wonder what it means to be “raising Olamina”—that is raising children the same age as Lauren Oya Olamina and her siblings. I experienced this concept before I became a chronological parent—as an elder sister to much younger siblings and as an auntie to my sisters’ children long before I had my own, while I first encountered Lauren Oya Olamina as a substitute teacher in the same middle school where I was a student. Today, I teach in the same university where I earned my BA.

But during the pandemic, when folks asked me to speak on Butler’s prescience, it wasn’t climate change, wildfires I could see from my front yard, or even the costs of goods and services on the rise. Besides the staggering loss of life that continues, it was my students and relatives—comprised of essential workers risking themselves daily, and especially my kids learning in the next room. This seemed to be something else Butler predicted in her fiction that people pay less attention to; offspring and family—chosen or otherwise—are kin(dred) represent a survival apparatus and joy technology all their own.

I have always read what my older child was interested in because his reading level and interests didn’t always match what was age appropriate. And some books were of interest to my spouse and I, so we got to experience some of our favorites all over again. More exciting for me is the diversity of representation and experience that I have encountered that just did not exist when I was his age. I feel both relieved and annoyed by the things I was assigned in school and forced to read that did not reflect any of my experiences as a little Black Jamerican girl. 

When I first came up with the phrase, “raising Olamina” my then-10-year-old son and I had just finished reading Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the World and its sequels by Kwame Mbalia. I hadn’t read the books myself, but my kid insisted that we sit down and read these (not just listen to the audio books as we have done with the fabulous Wings of Fire books, The Kane Chronicles, and many more). I asked questions about what we were reading since he’d read them on his own and he refused to spoil the book for me. Imagine my wonder and delight the first time I read the name Ayana aloud and discovered that a main character in the book has my name! He wanted to surprise me. It was such a gift to my adult self and the ten-year-old me of the past who had never met another person with my name, let alone in a beautiful book full of living Black archetypes from the Americas and the continent of Africa. 

My older son and I are anxiously awaiting the third books that comes after the first two books in Tomi Adeyemi’s Legacy of Orisha trilogy and whatever will come after Gilded Ones and the Merciless Ones by Namina Forna !

We are raising each other. Parenting is a constant loop of vision, revision, revising what I know, how I was raised, and ways I need to heal and grow beyond/through that upbringing. Raising Olamina is how that takes shape.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *