What the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship Meant to Me: Dennis Ginoza

I discovered Octavia Butler’s work when I was in my thirties. I don’t remember how I came across Parable of the Sower, but in the days after 9/11, when it seemed we were lurching into a civilizational war, Butler’s dystopian novel was a revelation for me. It wasn’t just the themes she explored or the audacity of her ideas that thrilled, it was the perspective of her characters that truly engaged me. Growing up, I’d read lots of speculative fiction. While these works had always entertained, I’d never really connected with them at a more essential level, I could not recognize myself or the people around me in the fantastical books that I was reading. Perhaps that’s why, as an Asian kid who grew up in Hawaii public housing, I’d come to regard SF as a relic of my childhood.

Octavia Butler brought me back to speculative fiction. Despite the differences in our backgrounds, I recognized my own experiences in her work— the sense of being an outsider in your own culture, a sojourner in the only world you have ever known, a longing for something more, for connection and community. I began reading all of her books— Kindred, the Patternist series, the Xenogenesis trilogy. Each reaffirmed not only Octavia Butler’s extraordinary talent, but also her deep empathy for determined survivors trying to navigate oceans of brutality and oppression.

As I came late to Octavia Butler’s work, I also started writing fiction later than most at age forty. In 2011, I was honored to be awarded the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. Attending the Clarion Writers’ Workshop was a powerful experience. As a Butler Scholar, I felt an added responsibility to contribute to the workshop. While I never met Octavia Butler, I like to think that she would have enjoyed knowing that the scholarship in her honor enabled an older, Asian-American writer who uses a wheelchair to be part of the very writing workshop she attended and taught. The sense of community I found at Clarion reflected the inclusive vision of Octavia Butler’s writing. I am, and remain, deeply grateful to have been part of the Clarion Class of 2011. It would not have been possible without the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.

What the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship Meant to Me: Amin Chehelnabi

When I first received the Octavia Butler Scholarship in 2014, I was both surprised and overwhelmed. Admittedly, I didn’t know who Octavia Butler was, but the name fascinated me. I felt obligated – no, impelled – to find out about this person with whom I knew very little but who had given me so much. As part of my prerequisite reading material for the other instructors, I added Octavia Butler’s work to the pile.

Hers was the first I read. I consumed Blood Child. I thought to myself, “How is it possible that I hadn’t known about this author until recently?” Her work blew me away, literally. I felt an immediate connection with her words and her stories. As an Australian-born gay Iranian I’ve always had a love for speculative fiction that pushed the boundaries of gender, sexuality and religion, encompassing other cultures and the minority voices they had come from.

I came to understand that the underlying theme in my writing had to do with humans and their relationship to the divine, in all its nuances and guises, and reading Blood Child empowered me. It told me that I am someone whose voice can be heard as well, an Iranian perspective hitherto unrecognized and unknown. Octavia approached the same issues that I wanted to address; she took risks with her fiction to the point that it became something completely “other” in relation to other speculative fiction writers, and because of that she stood out, and deservedly so.

I collected my thoughts (as one does with such things) and recognized that receiving the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship meant that my writing had in some way associated with her late work. When I think about the two stories I submitted to Clarion UCSD, it made even more sense. I submitted two stories that pushed boundaries to the point that I still fear even today it might rub a conservative Iranian the wrong way, or potentially cause Iranians or Muslims to lash out against me. I guess Clarion gave me the freedom to write them, and the Scholarship the relevance and acceptance that, yes your voice is a valid voice and must be recognized and heard.

There’s one fundamental thing with Octavia Butler and her work that stuck me. It continues to touch the hearts of different cultures, and the minds of those minority groups who have so much to say yet who feel their voices are stilled by their circumstances or their upbringing. This is what’s so wonderful about the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship: it allows those people a chance to make their voices heard, to give people a broader understanding of different cultures; we as human beings to identify with their beauty and tragedy, their nuances of emotion and situation, and awareness to issues that are still taboo in their culture or country; and all through the lens of speculative fiction. The Scholarship is therefore a worthy thing. It equals validation and purpose, a rising fire in the gut, purifying and empowering, and it has meant so much to me, and will continue to do so until my last breath.

Amin Chehelnabi is an Australian-born gay Iranian with a strong interest in the Speculative Fiction field. His work ranges from historical and dark contemporary fiction set in the Middle East, to horror and fantasy fiction. He is a graduate of the Clarion UCSD Writer’s Workshop, and a recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship Award in 2014. In the same year he had a horror story published with Innsmouth Free Press, which was given an honorable mention in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven. Amin had also been a panelist at the Shaping Change Conference at UCSD regarding Octavia E. Butler and her work.

Readercon CBS Meetup

Hey Carl Brandonites!

CBS will be having an official dinner at Readercon!

WHEN: Saturday, 6 – 7 pm (during the dinner break)
WHERE: Summer Winter (the hotel restaurant)
HOW: Please RSVP below in comments. I need a sense of how many people will be coming.
WHO: Anyone interested in finding out more about becoming a member of the Carl Brandon Society!

If you see me (Claire) in the halls, just grab me and ask! Looking forward to seeing some of you on Saturday!