Dr Katie Muth, University of Durham, will describe Octavia E Butler’s life-long engagement with self-help and personal development literature, focusing in particular on how she revised the often reactionary entrepreneurial ethos of human potential into a progressive Black futurism.
Butler, an American science fiction writer, has been praised for the prescient indictment of US American right-wing populism in her work, as well as for its attentiveness to ecological sustainability, and for its unwavering anti-authoritarianism and ecumenicalism. But few have recognised her fiction’s debt to self-help literature—particularly literature on personal development and wealth-building. In her journals and commonplace books going back at least to 1970, Butler describes her writerly aspirations alongside a reel of direct marketing schemes, small business ideas, and aphorisms for self-betterment.
Dr Muth is Teaching Fellow in American Literature in the Department of English Studies at Durham University. Her research interests involve Cold War studies, African American literatures, world literatures, and digital humanities. Recent or forthcoming work includes articles on post-Marxian dissent, Mo Yan, and Langston Hughes; defense industry prose in Thomas Pynchon’s early fiction; French theory and American experimentalism; mid-century television writing; and algorithmic reading. She is editor, with Lorna Burns, of World Literature and Dissent (Routledge, forthcoming 2019).
Her current book project Day Jobs: Postwar American Fiction and Work explores the intersection of creative economies and American fiction after World War II. Specifically, the project considers how extra-literary jobs like technical writing, ad writing and editing inflect canonical postmodern fiction by Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and Toni Morrison. The project also examines the rise of neoliberal and libertarian ideologies in relation to the New Journalism and Afrofuturism.