There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
We are known by our marks, from the blemish bestowed on Cain by an angry God to the spectacular facial metal sported by that guy who works the door at the 9:30 Club. These features can inform our experience—ask a redhead quaffing half-price Rolling Rocks at Madam’s, or little person Charla struggling to keep up with longer-legged competitors in The Amazing Race. But, in turn, experience itself can mark us. In Kindred, 26-year-old Dana, a black Californian woman in 1976, is thrust into her ancestors’ past on a Maryland plantation. Her color and gender are crucial in her existence there—#and so are those of her white husband, Kevin, when he joins her. Her journey leaves her with a new mark: a missing arm. “I couldn’t let her return to what she was,” said author Octavia Butler in a 1991 interview for the magazine Callaloo. “I couldn’t let her come back whole…Antebellum slavery didn’t leave people quite whole.” Butler, now 57, was one of the first writers of speculative fiction to explore African-American themes, from Kindred to her Hugo and Nebula Award–winning short story “Bloodchild,” about male slaves who incubate alien slaveholders’ eggs, and the Patternist series, about a telepathic race commanded by an African immortal. She writes with a natural grace that draws in folks who are wary of saucers and shape-shifters. In short, she’s a great hope for those who don’t want genre fiction to be, well, marked in a stigmatizing way. Butler and fellow pioneering African-American writer Samuel R. Delany speak on the art of speculative fiction at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, at the National Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 287-3382. (Pamela Murray Winters)