Sowing the Seeds of Hope: The Parable of the Sower Opera by Toshi and Bernice Johnson Reagon

Toshi and Bernice Johnson Reagon’s adaptation of Octavia Butler’s dystopian novel Parable of the Sower is both texturally and metatexually rich. Part rock opera, part concert, part revival, the performance uses Butler’s novel as a reference point rather than being a literal translation of the narrative. Toshi, flanked by two women, not only narrates the action, she also contextualizes Butler’s thematic concerns, and frequently breaks the fourth wall. The audience is encouraged at certain points during the performance to join in by clapping along, and the actors often roam among the seats.

Sower’s plot in the novel is the first person narration of Lauren Olamina who lives in a US on the verge of social and economic collapse. She lives with her family in a gated community with her family and other like-minded people, mostly sheltered from the chaos outside the gates. In this world, capitalism has deformed into mega-corporations that exploit their workers, climate change has turned the West Coast drought-ravaged and wild-fire prone, and the breakdown of social services has given rise to lawlessness and addiction to a drug, Pyro, which makes the addict crave arson. Though she lives in relative safety, Lauren is a Cassandra-type prophet who can see that it’s only a matter of time before what’s outside comes in. First, her rebellious older brother ventures outside and returns injured. Then her beloved father never returns from his weekly visit outside. Finally, the gates are breached by a violent gang. Lauren becomes a de facto leader of the survivors as they search for a safe new settlement. Along the way, Lauren “sows the seeds” of her pragmatic philosophy, called Earthseed. Earthseed proposes that God is Change, and you can either resist or be proactive about shifts in circumstance. Pretty soon, Lauren gathers followers, who see hope and solace in her carefully curated believes.

The Reagons’ score tells the story through songs that mix folk, blues, rock and gospel. All of the performers (including Toshi Reagon, who also plays guitar) have sterling voices. Marie Tatti Aqeel, who plays Lauren, has a particularly powerful solo that showcases her full range in a song about her missing father. Reagon’s frequent informal asides were witty and referenced current events that Butler eerily predicted, from oligarchy to cryptocurrency to social media’s corrosive effect on the population. (Butler also predicted the rise of a populist nativist who would Make American Great again in the follow-up Parable of the Talents). Somehow, Reagon and her mother turned the dark pessimistic story into a joyous explosion of hopeful survival. Much like Earthseed’s tenets. The final song in the opera was a chillingly beautiful rendition of what sounded like a call-and-response gospel hymn.

It’s a celebration of resilience and community.

-Seen on April 29, 2022 at the Strathmore Music Center

Buzz In the Press for “The Nectar of Nightmares”

The forthcoming book, THE NECTAR OF NIGHTMARES, was written about twice this week, getting some buzz. Looking forward to have people read the book! June 7th can’t come soon enough!

5 Reimagined Gothic Books to Give You the Creeps, from the Lineup

Can’t Miss Indie Press Speculative Fiction for May and June 2022 from Tor.com

(I’ve decided to celebrate the release by treating myself to see Icelandic postrock band Sigur Ros the eve of the release).

Watch this space for some unboxing photos when I get my author copies!

Confessions of a Sensitivity Reader

Every  now and then, someone complains about Sensitivity Readers. The very concept offends some authors. Detractors view it as Political Correctness (or “wokeness”) run amok. I am a Sensitivity Reader. In fact, most of my writing money comes from Sensitivity Reading. (I can’t disclose clients, but I’ve worked for the Big Five). I hope that I can demystify the process.

First, and foremost, the name Sensitivity (or Authenticity) Reader is somewhat misleading. I suppose it conjures up the image of a permanently outraged censor who adheres to a draconian ideology that who transforms passionate works of art into doctrinaire cookie-cutter fiction that tows an identitarian line. 

This could not be further from the truth. It’s more in line with fact-checking and quality control. Nuance and understanding subtext are key factors in the skillset. The point is, authors who want to write diversely sometimes have blind spots. They might find themselves lacking the nuances that their characters have to navigate. My role is point things out—to offer suggestions, to make sure that the author’s portrayal is accurate. My notes are never prescriptive. I am always open to the possibility of misreading things accord to my own biases. When I get the assignments, it is always understood that my reactions to the text are an individual Black queer point of view, and that I don’t speak for all Black queer people. My role is just as a specialized Beta reader.

I’ve never found anything egregious in all the work I’ve done. The biggest issue I’ve come across? One client set his novel in Washington, DC (my hometown and current base of operations) and there wasn’t single Black person in mentioned in the novel. (DC’s demographic are roughly 45% Black, 42% white). Another client had a character that was close to being a ‘magical negro.’ In both cases, the authors were grateful that I had shared my observations, and they incorporated my suggestions into their work. If authors disagree with my assessments, or think I missed a point, that’s valid as well. It’s just getting a specialized version of an Editorial Letter, which tend to be even more brutal.

For those who can’t hire a Sensitivity Reader, you can check out Writing the Other for a comprehensive list of resources.

Obviously, there are works that don’t require the use of Sensitivity Readers. If your work takes place 3000 years in the future with nonhuman characters or in a secondary world without our history, it’s not, in my opinion, necessary. That being said, every work could use an extra set of eyes.

The purpose of Authenticity (or Sensitivity) readers is make a good book even better. That’s the aim, not to appease a mob of “woke Social Justice Warriors.” 

ICFA and the start of Con Season

My first International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts appearance was wonderful. It was great being in the midst of writers and scholars who write and study about the breadth of Speculative Fiction. The theme this year was ‘Fantastic Communities,’ and, indeed, the community was fantastic. I was the recipient of largesse, from getting a free ticket to the Award Ceremony banquet to having people pay for drinks around the pool. I was on one panel about Folk Horror titled Not All Wickermen, which explored diverse examples of the folk horror trope. I look forward to attending the con in the future.

I plan to appear at Stokercon (Denver, May); Balticon (Baltimore, May) and Necronomicon (Providence, August).

Photo by Jim Kelly

The Nectar of Nightmares (Stories) Cover Reveal and blurbs

Craig Laurance Gidney is a magician. His stories are dazzling and transformative. His illusions shame reality for its fragility. He dares you to take a card—any card—and gives you back your watch, your wallet, your sanity.

The stories in The Nectar of Nightmares weave and remix myths, legends, and identities. Ranging from retold folktales to diverse settings like the Harlem Renaissance and the contemporary drag ball scene to phantasmagoric secondary worlds, this is a horror collection for those who have descended so far into the deep, there’s nothing left to fear.

There is.


Craig Laurance Gidney has been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award on multiple occasions. The Nectar of Nightmares is his latest collection of weird and wondrous stories.

The Nectar of Nightmares is a haunting collection of stories, filled with retellings and reimaginings, transgressive versions of familiar tales from our youth. It’s important work that’s being done here, visceral and unsettling, paired with humor and hope. This is an author to keep an eye on, for sure.”
—Richard Thomas, author of Spontaneous Human Combustion

The Nectar of Nightmares is an incredible and breathtaking achievement. There’s a sublime magic in these stories as well as a lingering danger, one that lurks at the edges of every page, waiting to draw you nearer. No one else out there is writing weird and wondrous fiction like Craig Laurance Gidney. Prepare to be dazzled and bewitched.”
—Gwendolyn Kiste, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens and Reluctant Immortals

Release Date: June 7, 2022

Word Horde Emporium GoFund Me

I just donated to the Word Horde Emporium GoFundMe. Word Horde not only published my novel A SPECTRAL HUE, they are also have a bricks and mortar store that sells independent speculative fiction (along with other wonderful things). They want to relocate, and I’d love to see independent bookstores thrive!

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