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Works of Radical Imagination

Meet Paul Lewin: The Artist Behind The New Parables Cover Art

November 23

by Paul Lewin

About twelve years ago, a friend loaned me two books: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. This was my first introduction to Octavia Butler. I had never read anything like it. I was instantly hooked. It completely changed my view of sci-fi, art, and literature. I’ve always loved post-apocalyptic worlds, but this was something very different, more rooted in reality without any of the glamour and flare you might get with a big-screen, futuristic blockbuster movie. I was very moved by the way she was able to seamlessly weave in heavy subject matters such as race, gender, class, and politics, without ever compromising the integrity of the sci-fi. Since then, I have read all her books and I've loved every one of them. 

What ultimately attracted me to her work was her powerful storytelling ability. There was a scene in Parable of the Sower where a fire is fast approaching from the hills and engulfing everything. Her description of it was so vivid I remember my heart racing as I read it. 

In the Parable series, as in so much of her work, you see the fragility of the human condition. She opened my eyes to what can happen when the thin veil of what we call civilization is stripped away. We can very easily revert back to our primitive nature as a means of survival. That was instantly one of my favorite things about her work. There is often no specific villain. Most of the time, the villain is us––our own propensity, in times of desperation, to exert a level of cruelty and violence on each other, especially against those we may be taught to consider inferior to us as human beings. 

When I was first approached by Seven Stories Press about the book covers for Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, I was a bit floored. It was such an honor to have my work considered for the cover of her work, and for these books in particular. Seven Stories had seen some of my previous works, and they thought it would work well with the stories. After some discussion, we chose the ones I felt fit her work the best. For Parable of the Sower, we chose my painting “The Offering,” in which a woman gives an offering to a hummingbird. This reminded me of the main character Lauren Olamina, offering what she’s learned to the world in the form of a new religion. Her rare hyper empathy syndrome makes her a “sharer”, someone who feels what other people––and, to a lesser extent, animals––feel when they’re in pleasure or pain. 

For Parable of the Talents, we chose my painting “Emergence,”  which portrays the strength one must find to endure hard times with grace. I painted it during a very rough period in my life. I often use art as a means of therapy and healing. There was that Larkin, daughter of Lauren Olamina, had to overcome a tremendous amount of hardship and brutality in Parable of the Talents. The world in which she lived was very unforgiving.


With all of Butler's work that I've read, no matter how dark her stories seemed to get at times, I always ended up feeling a beautiful sense of hope for our ability as humans to adapt and survive. To this day, I find myself humbled just thinking about how it all came full circle––from when I first read Butler's work, to later having that work inspire my art and eventually to see that art on the cover of her books.

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