Published in 1993, Parable of the Sower is a classic of Black feminist science fiction. Characterized by classic sci-fi conventions such as a post-apocalyptic earth, a character with strange psionic powers, and a belief that it is the destiny of humanity to take root among the stars, The Parable of the Sower offers both a stunning future and a biting commentary on current affairs.
In the words of critic Jim Miller, The Parable of the Sower presents "a dystopian world, but one which is only 20 minutes into the future." In the very near future, gangs run amok in cities, schools have been shut down, sanitation is nonexistent, and widespread unemployment leads to the re-institution of slavery. The downfall of civilization is not due to aliens or robot uprisings, but rather to the own unchecked greed of humanity, which has led to economic and environmental crises.
But this world is not without hope. Out on the road after the destruction of her walled community, with only a pair of companions, Lauren begins to build a community based on the belief system she has developed since childhood - Earthseed, which holds that God is change and that it is our duty to shape God with foresight and planning. She gathers a diverse, multiracial group of people together into a community that focuses on mutual support rather than exploitation.
The Parable of the Sower features powerful female, working-class, and Black characters. It has received rave reviews and was a finalist for the Nebula Award as well as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
The novel was adopted into a folk/blues opera by Toshi Reagon and her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon. It was performed as part of The Public Theater's 2015 Under the Radar Festival in New York City. Rapper Talib Kweli also references the book in his song "Ms. Hill," which is about a young woman who likes to buy Octavia Butler books.
A sequel to the novel, The Parable of the Talents, was published in 1998. It follows the development of the Acorn community, and Lauren Olumina's eventual success at establishing Earthseed as a major religious movement.