The University Musical Society
(UMS) and numerous community partners are preparing a monthlong series of events in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, inspired by Octavia E. Butler's Afrofuturist science-fiction novel "Parable of the Sower." The event series, collectively titled "Parable Path A2Ypsi
," will culminate with UMS' presentation of "Octavia E. Butler's 'Parable of the Sower,'" an operatic adaptation of Butler's book by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon, at the Power Center in Ann Arbor on March 25-27.
The series will kick off on Jan. 31 with a virtual discussion on the first chapters of the Butler book that inspired the opera. It will end with an “Octavia E. Butler Week” featuring panel discussions, performances, an interview with Toshi Reagon, and the opera performances.
Butler's 1993 novel tells the story of a young woman dealing with inequality and climate change in a dystopian United States in 2024. The character's experiences eventually shape a belief system based on positive, community-based change, which she sets out to share with others.
UMS Vice President of Education and Community Engagement Cayenne Harris
says UMS worked closely with Reagon to put together a community-oriented and collaborative “path” to the opera that would honor the messages of sustainability, hope, and community-building found in the novel.
“When I first started talking to Toshi, she challenged me to think about what that might mean here in Southeast Michigan,” Harris says. “We decided to really take a hyper-local approach and focus on Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti: two communities that are neighbors, but often not considered the same community.”
But, she says, “In working with my colleagues at UMS, we did find really like-minded folks were working on social justice and environmental sustainability in both communities, and felt there was a real opportunity to bring folks together in allyship around this piece and these concepts.”
Among UMS’ partners in presenting the Path are the Ann Arbor
District Libraries, Booksweet
, Black Stone Bookstore
, NOW Studios
, Eastern Michigan University
, the University of Michigan (U-M) Institute for the Humanities
, U-M Arts Initiative
, the U-M Library system
, and Ypsi Writes
. The Parable Path website also names Food Gatherers
and We the People Opportunity Farm
as two community resources that “are committed to action and advocacy for change, including conversations of sustainability, social justice, spiritual freedom, and inclusivity.”
“I think that people really felt, given everything that’s going on in the world right now, that this particular piece and the message of the novel resonate pretty deeply,” Harris says. “There’s been a real interest in coming together on this, and this isn’t just a UMS project. This is a community project, and it’s still evolving.”
Reagon has created similar “paths” in several other communities where the opera was performed. Harris says Reagon's and UMS' goal for the project is longevity.
“Hopefully this is a network that can continue to come together,” she says. “We’re always stronger when we come together.”
Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Reed Hutchinson.