Reader, I’ve been remiss. When I started the Badass Female Project, I wrote about trying not to read so many things written by white men. I did a pretty good job finding badass female protagonists written by female creators. But I failed to dig in to some of the most compelling examples out there— work written by Black women. I didn’t put this explicitly in my brief to myself— fewer white men, I said— but I didn’t seek out Black women specifically, and I should have. I noted that finding work by and about women took a surprisingly amount of effort because it wasn’t top-of-shelf, top-of-syllabus, top-of-mind— and this applies even more to Black women. I’m sorry, Octavia Butler, I’m sorry, N. K. Jemisin. If you, like me, allowed yourself to be steered down roads excluding this excellent work, you are now in for a wild ride— for me, it was awe (holy shit), followed by anger (how come I didn’t know about this??), ending up at deep, deep appreciation.
I’ve trolled dystopian fiction and told you about Suzanne Collins’s Katniss, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaids, and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Non-Compliants. And I’m here today to sing the praises Octavia Butler’s Lauren Olamina— as she appears in Parable of the Sower.
Parable of the Sower (1993) is not for the faint of heart. The action begins with 14-year-old Lauren holding it together in a rapidly collapsing society— in 2024. And nothing about this world seems implausible. Poverty is the norm. Safety is scarce. Lauren’s world is shrunken into a small circle of trusted neighbors who help one another with schooling, protection from looters and arsonists, and sometimes food. Lauren, with astounding maturity, foresees that the proverbial shit will hit the fan at some point, and prepares: she saves seeds, learns to shoot, hides an emergency kit, and looks for allies— all while creating, in her spare time, a book of verses constituting a new religion of sorts. The religion is focused on the concept of change— not unlike ideas of impermanence found in Buddhism, and the simple verses recall the Tao Te Ching, also.
Without going into plot details, the shit does indeed hit the fan. Lauren maintains a clarity of purpose in both her actions and her thoughts that boggles the mind— just think how so many full-fledged adults without this kind of scarcity have lost our minds in matter of months this year in comparatively mild adversity. She grows into quiet and driven leadership without drama or ego— she simply sees what needs to be, and makes it so. Sometimes it’s making bread from acorns. Sometimes it’s shooting an assailant. That Lauren is possessed of such equanimity is even more astounding because she also experiences a kind of hyperempathy— she experiences the pain of others, which, in the context of a violent post-society world, is a potential enormous liability. Yet, she carries it.
So, Lauren Olamina: Badass Female for the ages. Don’t make the mistake I made and let this book (and its sequel) pass you by.