caltech alumni book club
Bookworms Unite! The Caltech Alumni Association offers an online book club for Caltech alumni and the Caltech community including Associates and parents. A new book will be chosen every other month by our alumni, faculty, or staff hosts. Hosts, along with our team, will post interesting and thought-provoking questions on our private discussion boards which are always open. You can chat, participate, and add to the conversation whenever it is convenient for you. You do not have to read every book--there are no tests or quizzes here. Sign up, create your profile and you’re ready.
by Octavia Butler
Hosted by: Melanie Masterton Sherazi
Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life.
During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
Author Octavia E. Butler skilfully juxtaposes the serious issues of slavery, human rights, and racial prejudice with an exciting science-fiction, romance, and historical adventure.
About Octavia Butler
Octavia Estelle Butler, often referred to as the “grand dame of science fiction,” was born in Pasadena, California on June 22, 1947. She received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena Community College, and also attended California State University in Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles. During 1969 and 1970, she studied at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, where she took a class with science fiction master Harlan Ellison (who later became her mentor), and which led to Butler selling her first science fiction stories.
With the publication of Kindred in 1979, Butler was able to support herself writing full time. She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for her short story, “Speech Sounds,” and in 1985, Butler’s novelette “Bloodchild” won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and an award for best novelette from Science Fiction Chronicle.
Meet Melanie Masterton Sherazi
Melanie Masterton Sherazi
Melanie Masterton Sherazi is a Postdoctoral Instructor of American literature at the California Institute of Technology and a former University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in English at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Riverside. She is currently writing a book, Nero e Rosso: Desegregationist Aesthetics in Cold War Rome (1947-65), about the mixed-genre cultural work produced by African American writers and artists in postwar Rome, often in collaboration with Italian filmmakers and artists. Her research into William Demby's papers from Rome, which she inventoried at the Villa Podernovo, near Florence, inspired this project. Sherazi edited and wrote the introduction to Demby’s final novel, King Comus, published by the Ishmael Reed Publishing Company in 2017, and has published articles on modernist literature in MELUS and Mississippi Quarterly. Articles are forthcoming in ARIEL, Modernism/modernity Print Plus, and Italian Quarterly, and in the edited collection New Cosmopolitanisms, Race, and Ethnicity (De Gruyter).
Melanie Masterton sherazi
by the book - book club host profile
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. I am currently reading Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.
Q. What is your favorite genre? Who are your favorite writers in the genre?
A. I tend to gravitate toward modernist novels, with William Faulkner, William Demby, Ralph Ellison, and Carson McCullers being some of my favorite American writers.
Q. How do you organize your bookshelf?
A. A great number of my books are works of fiction and poetry. I reorganized my bookshelf recently by historical periods and literary movements.
Q. What was the most influential book you have read?
A. In terms of fiction, it would have to be Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
Q. Can you tell us why you picked Kindred? What is it about?
A. Octavia E. Butler is a groundbreaking, award-winning, and prolific African American writer of speculative fiction. I thought Kindred would make an ideal selection because of its unique time-travel premise and because of Butler's local connections to Pasadena. Butler hailed from and spent much of her life in Pasadena, and her papers are now housed at the Huntington Library. Readers can peruse some fascinating images from the Octavia E. Butler Collection on the Huntington's website, including drafts of her work and pages from her many notebooks.
Kindred is a riveting novel that is rife with ethical dilemmas. Its timelines alternate between 1970s Pasadena and Los Angeles and antebellum Maryland. The novel’s protagonist, an African American woman in her 20s named Dana, is pulled back suddenly through time from the 1970s to a Maryland plantation in the early 19th-century, where she comes to the aid of a slaveholder's young son, Rufus, in a moment of crisis. Kindred invites us to speculate about the forces propelling Dana's time travel as we learn more about these two characters over the course of the novel.
Q. What are some concepts that you think the readers will be drawn to?
A. The novel raises many complex questions around social identity, both past and present, and develops layered ideas related to survival, resistance, and, as the title suggests, kinship. I think readers will have a great deal to discuss in terms of Kindred's engagement with the nature of time and with the historical past, both individual and collective. The novel asks us: What is the role of the historical past in our present?