Worldmaking, Disability, and Octavia Butler
Rebekah Simcha Otto
Date: April 26, 2023
Octavia Butler’s speculative fiction is widely acclaimed for the distinct insights it offers Black studies and disability studies. For some, her work pioneer’s Black feminist disability studies in ways no other author has yet to match. This paper furthers that Butler expansive world of speculative fiction poignantly describes the conditions of the present in critical ways. Her short story, “The Evening, and The Morning, and The Night,” offers a landscape eerily similar to our present of COVID-19, antiblack murder, a national mental health epidemic, and how these intersections uniquely impact Black disabled bodies. Looking at how this short story intersects with the voices of Eli Clare, Sami Schalk, and Aurora Levins Morales, this paper excavates the creative possibilities Butler’s speculative fiction develops for Black life, and subsequently disabled bodies across difference. It describes how Butler’s creative epistemological understanding of the world is necessary for interdisciplinary disability scholars to emulate as we attempt to disrupt white-cis-hetero-patriarchal understandings of what disabled bodies look like and lives they can (and cannot) create. Here, short stories like, “The Evening, and The Morning, and The Night,” offer landscapes of recognition, and hold space for those of us still fighting the war of disability acceptance. Additionally, it uncovers the capacity for pleasure even in times of national crisis and upheaval. Here, the worldmaking disabled bodies across difference engage with, hold expansive possibilities for society and the future.
About the Speaker
Rebekah Simcha Otto
My name is Rebekah Simcha (Otto). I am a Black, queer, disabled, first-year PhD student in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies. My research focuses on Blackness, Indigeneity, and gender-based violence in Alaska. I am particularly interested in what it means to grow up at the intersections of Blackness, Indigeneity, disability, and queerness in what has been called the, “most dangerous state for women.” In my work, I use oral history, the archives, and creative methods to explore the relationship between Alaskan landscapes, bodies, violence, and to imagine how healing operates in these spaces. Leaning into the intersections of my own upbringing in Alaska, my work draws from the Black feminist praxis and radical mothering modeled by the bodies, ocean, and trees in my environment.