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.

2018 Octavia Birthday Fundraiser

June 22 is Octavia E. Butler’s birthday–she’d be 71 years old if she were still alive today.  Butler was a writer, a visionary, and a genuine, certified genius–and also a community-minded activist who worked to make a place for people of color within the science fiction, fantasy, and horror communities. In that spirit, the Carl Brandon Society is celebrating Octavia’s time here with a Butler Birthday fundraiser that will allow us to continue her work and change the world of speculative fiction the way she changed it–for the better.

Our goal is to raise $10,000 by July 22. Reaching this goal will allow us to continue our major programs, such as the Octavia E. Butler Scholarships for writers of color attending the Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops, and also our Parallax and Kindred awards for excellence in literature challenging racial and ethnic stereotypes.

To date, CBS has funded 23 scholarships for students of color attending the Clarion and Clarion West workshops, presented 6 Kindred and 7 Parallax Awards, and provided 19 years of support and strategizing for People of Color seeking representation in our field. All with the help of generous donors like you.

The Carl Brandon Society is a 501(c)3 organization, so your donation is tax-deductible in the U.S.

We have been offered several donor challenges: over $2500 is pledged to us as matching funds for your gifts. Every dollar you send means we get another, matching dollar from one of our challenge pledge donors–up to $2500!

Donate now electronically (credit and debit cards accepted) by clicking the button below:

Or send a check or money order made out to the Carl Brandon Society to:

The Carl Brandon Society
P.O. Box 23336
Seattle, WA 98102

Thank you!

The Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee