It’s been a very artistically successful summer. But the high point was two weeks ago, when I presented the Carl Brandon Society’s Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship to Lisa Bolekaja at the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego. I was thrilled when the writer Nisi Shawl asked me to present the award. The evening event was wonderful. Lisa is very impressive and we got to spend some time together the next day.
Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an American science fiction writer. A recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Butler was one of the best-known African-American women in the field. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. (Wikipedia)
I was an admirer of Octavia’s work and I met her in connection with mine. She had commissioned an owl pendant from me in the late 1980′s with the understanding that I could keep the design. She felt that the owl was her totem. After thinking about it for a while I chose the image of a great horned owl landing on a branch. She was very pleased with the pendant. So, after she died and the Carl Brandon Society created the award, I donated the owl pendants each year as part of the award for the Octavia Butler Scholars.
From the Carl Brandon Society:
The mission of the Carl Brandon Society is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. … The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship enables writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It furthers Octavia’s legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.
Before I went down I thought a lot about what I was going to say. I talked to my friend Pat Diggs, who was a friend of Octavia’s. She told me that one of their earliest conversations was about growing up reading science fiction and how hard they had to work to see themselves in the stories, since there were so few women of color in them. She told me that when Octavia wrote she consciously left the visualization of her characters open, so that many different people could see themselves. If you paid close attention they were clearly black but she deliberately left space for ambiguity.
Lisa Bolekaja talked eloquently about how she had come to science fiction after discovering Octavia’s work in an African-American bookstore she was working in. After that, she had talked to Octavia at several readings. She had strongly recommended that Lisa apply to Clarion. Lisa has always had strong feelings about Octavia and her work, so in some ways the scholarship was Octavia’s gift.