Langston Hughes’ Homemade Christmas Cards From 1950

Who doesn’t trea­sure a hand­made present?

As the years go by, we may begin to offload the ill-fit­ting sweaters, the nev­er lit sand cast can­dles, and the Sty­ro­foam ball snow­men. But a present made of words takes up very lit­tle space, and it has the Ghost of Christ­mas Past’s pow­er to instant­ly evoke the sender as they once were.

Sev­en­ty years ago, poet Langston Hugh­es, too skint to go Christ­mas shop­ping, sent every­one on his gift list sim­ple, home­made hol­i­day post­cards. Typed on white card­stock, each signed card was embell­ished with red and green pen­cils and mailed for the price of a 3¢ stamp.

As biog­ra­ph­er Arnold Ram­per­sad notes:

The last weeks of 1950 found him nev­er­the­less in a melan­choly mood, his spir­its sink­ing low­er again as he again became a tar­get of red-bait­ing.

The year start­ed aus­pi­cious­ly with The New York Times prais­ing his libret­to for The Bar­ri­er, an opera based on his play, Mulat­to: A Tragedy of the Deep South. But the opera was a com­mer­cial flop, and pos­i­tive reviews for his book Sim­ple Speaks His Mind failed to trans­late into the hoped-for sales.

Although he had recent­ly pur­chased an East Harlem brown­stone with an old­er cou­ple who dot­ed on him as they would a son, pro­vid­ing him with a sun­ny, top floor work­space, 1950 was far from his favorite year.

His type­writ­ten hol­i­day cou­plets took things out on a jaun­ty note, while pay­ing light lip ser­vice to his plight.

Maybe we can aspire to the same…

Hugh­es’ hand­made hol­i­day cards reside in the Langston Hugh­es Papers in Yale’s Bei­necke Rare Book and Man­u­script Library, along with hol­i­day cards spe­cif­ic to the African-Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence received from friends and asso­ciates.

via the Bei­necke Rare Book and Man­u­script Library at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Langston Hugh­es Reads Langston Hugh­es

A Sim­ple, Down-to-Earth Christ­mas Card from the Great Depres­sion (1933)

Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christ­mas Car­ol Just as Dick­ens Read It

How Joni Mitchell’s Song of Heart­break, “Riv­er,” Became a Christ­mas Clas­sic

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Her lat­est alter ego, L’Ourse, wish­es you a very mer­ry Xmas and peace and health in the New Year  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Stream 48 Hours of Vintage Christmas Radio Broadcasts Featuring Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Ida Lupino & More (1930–1959)

The Gold­en Age of Amer­i­can Radio began in the 1930s and last­ed well into the 50s. That makes near­ly thir­ty Christ­mases, not one of which passed with­out spe­cial broad­casts by the major net­works. This Christ­mas, thanks to The World War II News and Old Time Radio Chan­nel on Youtube, you can expe­ri­ence the Gold­en Age’s three decades through 48 straight hours of hol­i­day broad­casts. Strung like an audio gar­land in chrono­log­i­cal order, these begin with an episode of NBC’s Empire Builders, quite pos­si­bly the first-ever West­ern radio dra­ma, first broad­cast on Decem­ber 22nd, 1930 — a rare year from which to hear a record­ed radio show at all, let alone a Christ­mas spe­cial. The com­pi­la­tion ends one day shy of 29 years lat­er, with a Top 40 broad­cast from WMGM in New York.

Through­out this all-Christ­mas lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence, old-time radio enthu­si­asts will rec­og­nize many of Amer­i­ca’s very favorite shows: Lum and Abn­erAmos and AndyFib­ber McGee and Mol­ly and The Great Gilder­sleeveThe Jack Ben­ny Pro­gram and The Char­lie McCarthy Show. For many sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate episodes of those series as well as one-off vari­ety broad­casts, net­works would wran­gle as many big names as they could into the stu­dio, from Bob Hope and Lionel Bar­ry­more to Gary Coop­er and Frank Sina­tra to Car­men Miran­da and Ida Lupino (direc­tor, film noir fans know, of The Hitch-Hik­er).

In 1947, CBS’ Lux Radio The­ater put on a full pro­duc­tion of It’s a Won­der­ful Life with Jim­my Stew­art and Don­na Reed, stars of the film that had come out just the year before. Even U.S. pres­i­dents like Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and Dwight D. Eisen­how­er turn up to deliv­er Christ­mas address­es.

Open Cul­ture read­ers may well remem­ber CBS’ 1941 pro­duc­tion of Oscar Wilde’s “The Hap­py Prince” fea­tur­ing Orson Welles and Bing Cros­by, but even those of us who know our clas­sic radio will hear a good deal in these 48 hours of broad­casts that we’ve nev­er heard before. Though all of them cel­e­brate the sea­son in one way or anoth­er, they do so in a host of dif­fer­ent forms and gen­res, even beyond the broad divi­sions of dra­ma, com­e­dy, music, and celebri­ty chat. In grad­u­al­ly pass­ing from liv­ing mem­o­ry, the gold­en age of Amer­i­can radio comes to seem a longer era than it was. But through that rel­a­tive­ly brief win­dow, opened by the house­hold adop­tion of radio and closed by the rise of tele­vi­sion, came an abun­dance of cre­ativ­i­ty that can still sur­prise us — and indeed inspire us — here at the close of the year 2020.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear The Cin­na­mon Bear, the Clas­sic Hol­i­day Radio Series That Has Aired Between Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas for 80 Years

A Christ­mas Car­ol, A Vin­tage Radio Broad­cast by Orson Welles and Lionel Bar­ry­more (1939)

Bob Dylan Reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas” On His Hol­i­day Radio Show (2006)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

When Our World Became a de Chirico Painting: How the Avant-Garde Painter Foresaw the Empty City Streets of 2020

This past spring, media out­lets of every kind pub­lished pho­tos and videos of eeri­ly emp­ty pub­lic spaces in cities like Bei­jing, New York, Milan, Paris, and Seoul, cities not known for their lack of street life. At least in the case of Seoul, where I live, the depop­u­lat­ed image was a bit of an exag­ger­a­tion, but tak­en as a whole, these stunned visu­al dis­patch­es from around the world reflect­ed a real and sud­den change in urban life caused by this year’s coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. They also got us think­ing, not just about our cities but about the built envi­ron­ment, and even human civ­i­liza­tion, in gen­er­al. Life, as often, had imi­tat­ed art: specif­i­cal­ly, it had imi­tat­ed the paint­ings of Gior­gio de Chiri­co, the founder of the Meta­phys­i­cal art move­ment.

“In 1909, de Chiri­co was sit­ting on a bench in the Piaz­za San­ta Croce in Flo­rence, recov­er­ing from an intesti­nal ill­ness, when all of a sud­den he had a pro­found expe­ri­ence.” So says Evan Puschak, bet­ter known as the Nerd­writer, in his new video essay “When the World Became a de Chiri­co Paint­ing.”

As the artist him­self lat­er remem­bered it a few years lat­er, “The whole world, down to the mar­ble of the build­ings and foun­tains, seemed to me to be con­va­les­cent.” There fol­lowed the paint­ing The Enig­ma of an Autumn After­noon, depict­ing a hol­lowed-out Piaz­za San­ta Croce, its stat­ue of Dante now head­less. “This and all the plazas in his Meta­phys­i­cal Town Square series are sim­pli­fied, emp­ty, cut with dra­mat­ic shad­ows.”

Sel­dom does a human being — that is, a human being not made of stone — appear in de Chiri­co’s Meta­phys­i­cal Town Squares. But he does include the occa­sion­al train in the dis­tance, usu­al­ly with a bil­low­ing smoke­stack. This sug­gests that, though life in the fore­ground seems to have stopped indef­i­nite­ly, moder­ni­ty con­tin­ues apace in the back­ground. To many of us, the vague dis­ori­en­ta­tion this caus­es now feels almost nor­mal, as does the sen­sa­tion of see­ing famil­iar places made unfa­mil­iar. In 2020, Puschak says, “cities and towns became immense muse­ums of strange­ness, and it was pos­si­ble to see what we built through alien eyes.” For more than a cen­tu­ry, De Chiri­co’s paint­ings have, on a much small­er scale, pre­sent­ed us the same oppor­tu­ni­ty for reflec­tion. But among oth­er things we’ve learned this year, nobody wants to live in a De Chiri­co for long.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See Web Cams of Sur­re­al­ly Emp­ty City Streets in Venice, New York, Lon­don & Beyond

How To Under­stand a Picas­so Paint­ing: A Video Primer

A Quick Six Minute Jour­ney Through Mod­ern Art: How You Get from Manet’s 1862 Paint­ing, “The Lun­cheon on the Grass,” to Jack­son Pol­lock 1950s Drip Paint­ings

2,000+ Impres­sion­ist, Post-impres­sion­ist & Ear­ly Mod­ern Paint­ings Now Free Online, Thanks to the Barnes Foun­da­tion

The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art (MoMA) Puts Online 75,000 Works of Mod­ern Art

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Performs The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

The Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain–we’ve fea­tured them here before, play­ing cov­ers of every­thing from David Bowie’s “Heroes,” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it,” Talk­ing Heads’ “Psy­cho Killer” and The Who’s “Pin­ball Wiz­ard.” And let’s not for­get their stir­ring per­for­mances of Ennio Morricone’s west­ern theme songs. Now, to help lift you out of the COVID gloom, they’re back with a nov­el take on the Stones’ 1965 clas­sic, “(I Can’t Get No) Sat­is­fac­tion.” Hope you enjoy.

Note: The orches­tra plans to post a new video every Sun­day on their YouTube chan­nel, and a full (pay-per-view) con­cert every month avail­able on their web­site.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent

The Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain Per­forms Stun­ning Cov­ers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it,” Talk­ing Heads’ “Psy­cho Killer” & More

Ukulele Orches­tra Per­forms Ennio Morricone’s Icon­ic West­ern Theme Song, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” And It’s Pret­ty Bril­liant.

David Bowie’s “Heroes” Delight­ful­ly Per­formed by the Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain

Watch the Rolling Stones Play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” While Social Dis­tanc­ing in Quar­an­tine

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How Jan van Eyck’s Masterpiece, the Ghent Altarpiece, Became the Most Stolen Work of Art in History

It’s a lit­tle mirac­u­lous that so much Euro­pean art and archi­tec­ture sur­vives, giv­en how often the con­ti­nent has erupt­ed into wars that burned down near­ly every­thing else. The Ghent Altar­piece, or Ado­ra­tion of the Lamb, may be the most famous case in point. It is also, by far, the most stolen work of art in his­to­ry, the vic­tim of 13 dif­fer­ent crimes over the past 600 years. Com­plet­ed in 1432 by Flem­ish painter Jan van Eyck, and con­sid­ered one of the world’s great­est trea­sures, the huge, mul­ti-pan­eled paint­ing (a polyp­tych) has weath­ered it all.

The altar­piece has “almost been destroyed in a fire,” Noah Char­ney writes at The Guardian, “was near­ly burned by riot­ing Calvin­ists, it’s been forged, pil­laged, dis­mem­bered, cen­sored, stolen by Napoleon, hunt­ed in the first world war, sold by a rene­gade cler­ic, then stolen repeat­ed­ly dur­ing the sec­ond world war…. Göring want­ed it for his pri­vate col­lec­tion, Hitler as the cen­tre­piece of his city­wide super-muse­um.”

In the short TED-Ed les­son above, Char­ney, author of the book Steal­ing the Mys­tic Lamb: The True Sto­ry of the World’s Most Cov­et­ed Mas­ter­piece, sketch­es the his­to­ry of the final theft in 1934 by the Nazis of a low­er pan­el that has nev­er been recov­ered. “This may sound very sil­ly,” Char­ney tells NPR, “but in fact, the Nazis and Hitler in par­tic­u­lar were absolute­ly con­vinced that the occult and the super­nat­ur­al was real.” They thought of the Ghent altar­piece as a map to the relics of Christ’s cru­ci­fix­ion.

The case of the miss­ing pan­el remains open to this day “and new leads are fol­lowed all the time,” Char­ney writes. It is a sto­ry full of “many bizarre twists,” and just one of many in the altarpiece’s long his­to­ry. But why? What is it about the Ghent Altar­piece, besides occult fas­ci­na­tion, that has drawn so much unwant­ed atten­tion? Eleven feet high by 15 feet wide and made up of 24 pan­els (orig­i­nal­ly), the work “rede­fined art and became instant­ly famous,” notes New Statesman’s Michael Prodger. In his mas­ter­piece, Jan van Eyck, who took over for his old­er broth­er Hubert, “cre­at­ed a series of firsts in art.”

The Ghent altar­piece is “the first real­is­tic inte­ri­or, the first gen­uine land­scape, the first prop­er cityscape, the first tan­gi­ble nudes, the first life­like Renais­sance por­traits. [Van Eyck took oil paint to unprece­dent­ed lev­els of sophistication—with glazes and trans­par­ent lay­ers giv­ing depth and undreamed of effects of light—to match his preter­nat­ur­al pow­ers of obser­va­tion.” In the video series above and below by art his­to­ri­ans Beth Har­ris and Steven Zuck­er, you can learn much more about the qual­i­ties that have made the Ghent Altar­piece irre­sistible.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Lis­ten to Last Seen, a True-Crime Pod­cast That Takes You Inside an Unsolved, $500 Mil­lion Art Heist

Anato­my of a Fake: Forgery Experts Reveal 5 Ways To Spot a Fake Paint­ing by Jack­son Pol­lock (or Any Oth­er Artist)

Meet Noto­ri­ous Art Forg­er Han Van Meegeren, Who Fooled the Nazis with His Coun­ter­feit Ver­meers

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

David Chase Talks Sopranos for 90 Minutes on the Talking Sopranos Podcast

Dur­ing the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic, the Talk­ing Sopra­nos pod­cast (pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed on OC here) got under­way. Host­ed by Michael Impe­ri­oli (Christo­pher Molti­san­ti) and Steve Schirri­pa (Bob­by Bacala), the pod­cast revis­its every episode of HBO’s ground­break­ing TV series. It starts nat­u­ral­ly with the 1999 pilot and then moves for­ward sequen­tial­ly. And each install­ment fea­tures a guest (usu­al­ly an actor, writer, or direc­tor who con­tributed to the show), fol­lowed by a scene-by-scene break­down of a com­plete Sopra­nos episode. (They cov­ered the cel­e­brat­ed “Pine Bar­rens” episode a few weeks back.) Past guests have includ­ed Edie Fal­co, Aida Tur­tur­ro, Steve Busce­mi, Lor­raine Brac­co and more.

Now almost halfway through the entire series, Impe­ri­oli and Schirri­pa spent 90 min­utes this week with Sopra­nos’ cre­ator David Chase. In a rare inter­view (watch above), Chase talks about his cre­ative ambi­tions for the show, the real peo­ple (friends and acquain­tances) he mod­eled char­ac­ters on, his some­times fric­tion-filled rela­tion­ship with James Gan­dolfi­ni, and the upcom­ing Sopra­nos film.

You can lis­ten to Talk­ing Sopra­nos on Apple, Spo­ti­fy and Google, or watch all episodes on YouTube. And if you’d like to sup­ple­ment all of this with more detail, get a copy of Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepin­wal­l’s book The Sopra­nos Ses­sions. It’s high­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent

Why James Gandolfini’s Tony Sopra­no Is “the Great­est Act­ing Achieve­ment Ever Com­mit­ted to the Screen”: A Video Essay

How David Chase Breathed Life into the The Sopra­nos

David Chase Reveals the Philo­soph­i­cal Mean­ing of The Sopra­nos’ Final Scene

Rewatch Every Episode of The Sopra­nos with the Talk­ing Sopra­nos Pod­cast, Host­ed by Michael Impe­ri­oli & Steve Schirri­pa

Carl Sagan on the Importance of Choosing Wisely What You Read (Even If You Read a Book a Week)

More than a few of us have a read­ing goal for 2021: a book a week, say. Some of us may have had the idea plant­ed in our heads long ago by Carl Sagan, in his capac­i­ty as cre­ator and host of the PBS series Cos­mos: A Per­son­al Voy­age. “If I were to read a book a week for my entire adult life­time,” he says in the clip above, “I would have read maybe a few thou­sand books. No more.” This is part of a longer mono­logue set in a library, a back­ground that pro­vides Sagan an ide­al visu­al ref­er­ence for how many vol­umes that is. Even seen as a por­tion of just the shelf space he stands by, it does­n’t look like a ter­ri­bly impres­sive amount. Indeed, it makes up “only tenth of a per­cent or so of the total num­ber of books in the library.”

The trick, Sagan adds, “is to know which books to read.” He him­self got start­ed address­ing this ques­tion rather ear­ly, hav­ing drawn up an ambi­tious read­ing list pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture while still an under­grad­u­ate at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go.

Sagan includ­ed (see the list here) every­thing from the Bible and Pla­to’s Repub­lic to André Gide’s The Immoral­ist and Aldous Hux­ley’s Young Archimedes to Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Cir­cuit Fun­da­men­tals and Ther­mo­dy­nam­ics: An Advanced Treat­ment — those last being course read­ings, but impres­sive ones nev­er­the­less. Though Sagan lived an abbre­vi­at­ed life, dying at the age of 62, we can rest assured that he nev­er­the­less got his few thou­sand books in. Can we do the same?

To gear up for your read­ing year to come, con­sid­er watch­ing this short doc­u­men­tary on the world’s most beau­ti­ful book­stores, which rec­om­mends dai­ly read­ing habits that add up to sur­pris­ing­ly many books over a life­time. But if you choose your books with­out dis­cern­ment, as Sagan implies, it does­n’t mat­ter how many you read. Before draw­ing up your own read­ing list, have a look at the ones oth­er seri­ous read­ers, writ­ers, and thinkers have used before: Charles Dar­win, for instance, or the many names in our per­son­al read­ing-list roundup includ­ing Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Jorge Luis Borges, Pat­ti Smith, Bill Gates, and David Bowie. Mark Twain also com­posed a read­ing list for kids and adults alike, but what­ev­er we take from it, we should enter the new year with one of his famous apho­risms in mind: “The man who does not read good books has no advan­tage over the man who can’t read them.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan’s Ambi­tious Col­lege Read­ing List: Pla­to, Shake­speare, Gide, and Plen­ty of Phi­los­o­phy, Math & Physics (1954)

What Did Charles Dar­win Read? See His Hand­writ­ten Read­ing List & Read Books from His Library Online

How to Read Many More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Some of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Book­stores

7 Tips for Read­ing More Books in a Year

100 Books to Read in a Life­time

29 Lists of Rec­om­mend­ed Books Cre­at­ed by Well-Known Authors, Artists & Thinkers: Jorge Luis Borges, Pat­ti Smith, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, David Bowie & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Octavia Butler’s Four Rules for Predicting the Future

Image by Niko­las Couk­ouma, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

If you, like me, often turn to sci­ence fic­tion to get more clar­i­ty about the present, past, and future, then you know you’re in good com­pa­ny with mul­ti­ple-award-win­ning sci-fi author Octavia But­ler. The nov­el­ist cast her gaze over it all, look­ing into the dark cor­ners of Amer­i­can life and human behav­ior and draw­ing out sto­ries that feel both shock­ing­ly new and famil­iar and true.

Some­times Butler’s truths are hard to hear, espe­cial­ly when we’re liv­ing in the midst of a time she fore­saw with such seem­ing accu­ra­cy thir­ty years ago in her Para­ble nov­els, two books meant to be the first parts of a tril­o­gy about America’s greed, cru­el­ty, and racism swal­low­ing up its good inten­tions and inflat­ed self-image.

Para­ble of the Sow­er and Para­ble of the Tal­ents are, as But­ler described them, “nov­els that take place in a near future of increas­ing drug addic­tion and illit­er­a­cy, marked by the pop­u­lar­i­ty of pris­ons and the unpop­u­lar­i­ty of pub­lic schools, the vast and grow­ing gap between the rich and every­one else, and the whole nasty fam­i­ly of prob­lems brought on by glob­al warm­ing.”

These prob­lems include the return of debt slav­ery, a par­tic­u­lar­ly nasty strain of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism, and a vague but dev­as­tat­ing envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse from which there is no return. But these are also nov­els about hope: about sur­vival and adap­ta­tion and empa­thy. But­ler may have invent­ed the plots of her post-apoc­a­lyp­tic future, but “I didn’t make up the prob­lems,” she once told a stu­dent.

Sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers aren’t clair­voy­ant, they’re just bet­ter at mak­ing obser­va­tions and spec­u­la­tions. “All I did was look around at the prob­lems we’re neglect­ing now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged dis­as­ters,” said But­ler. A per­spec­tive that doesn’t also include the whole of human his­to­ry is bound to miss the mark, she sug­gest­ed:

Writ­ing nov­els about the future doesn’t give me any spe­cial abil­i­ty to fore­tell the future. But it does encour­age me to use our past and present behav­iors as guides to the kind of world we seem to be cre­at­ing. The past, for exam­ple, is filled with repeat­ing cycles of strength and weak­ness, wis­dom and stu­pid­i­ty, empire and ash­es. To study his­to­ry is to study human­i­ty. And to try to fore­tell the future with­out study­ing his­to­ry is like try­ing to learn to read with­out both­er­ing to learn the alpha­bet.

But­ler goes on to dis­cuss her method for pre­dict­ing the future—so to speak—which any­one can learn to do with enough study and insight (that’s the hard part). Thom Dunn at Boing Boing has help­ful­ly bro­ken down her essay’s main points into four con­cise rules:

  • Learn from the past
  • Respect the law of con­se­quences
  • Be aware of your per­spec­tive
  • Count on the sur­pris­es

You can read the full essay here and get to work on your own fore­cast­ing abil­i­ties. But in order to ful­ly under­stand Butler’s project, it is essen­tial nev­er to despair. “The one thing that I and my main char­ac­ters nev­er do when con­tem­plat­ing the future is give up hope,” she writes. In answer to her student’s anguished ques­tion, if things are going to get so bad “what’s the answer?” But­ler sage­ly replied, “there isn’t one…. There’s no mag­ic bul­let. Instead there are thou­sands of answers—at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Behold Octavia Butler’s Moti­va­tion­al Notes to Self

Why Should We Read Pio­neer­ing Sci-Fi Writer Octavia But­ler? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

Octavia Butler’s 1998 Dystopi­an Nov­el Fea­tures a Fascis­tic Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date Who Promis­es to “Make Amer­i­ca Great Again”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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