2016 Regions Riding Forward® Scholarship Essay Contest Winning Essay by Andrew P. / GA

2016 Regions Riding Forward® Scholarship Essay Contest Winning Essay by Andrew P. / GA
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I dream of wielding a mind that’s half as vast as Octavia Butler’s. In her prose she could write our world into an apocalypse, bringing out the most heightened highs and lows of the human experience in language that was as sparse as it was profound- profound in its simplicity. This ability alone did not win Butler the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” or any of her other numerous accolades. The real ingenuity of Octavia Butler lies in the way she could write our way out of the messes we’ve made.

Octavia Butler not only wrote science fiction; she broadened the genre itself. Of her many accomplishments, her being the first science fiction writer to ever win the MacArthur Fellowship stands apart in its profoundness. With it, she brought a new level of dignity to the genre and did so as some black women in an overwhelmingly white and male field. Butler’s work refutes the narrative of science/speculative fiction that most people accept; that it’s an exclusive niche reserved for cartoons and billion-dollar movie franchises. Her work renders it, rather than the medium of “nerds,” that of community organizers and activists. For those that simply foresee a world that’s better than our own, Butler’s science fiction resonates. Unlike the mainstream science fiction before her, Butler’s work depicts a future where people of all races, ethnicities, genders and abilities have crucial roles to play in the defiant act of human survival.

Between her various series and novels, Butler’s work varies greatly. She plays with aliens, vampires and time travel, but her core interests are constantly present. Butler’s work topples hierarchies. Her stories feature survivors who embrace change. The answers to adversity always rely on some sort of greater community. These ideas are what stay with me after I read Octavia Butler. Rendering me skeptical of hierarchical thinking and simple answers, Butler’s work makes me both louder and more pensive, simultaneously; louder in that my past complacency in the midst of systemic oppression is made more obvious and therefore fuels a need to compensate, yet more pensive in that my mind has never been pushed in the directions she forces me to go. Octavia Butler made me read vampire novels. Octavia Butler made me read a male-pregnancy story. Octavia Butler confounds me and crushes me with tragic endings to characters she made me love, then she forces me to trudge onward in search of meaning.

Octavia Butler scares me, mostly because I know how easy it would be to disappoint her. Butler carried with her a fierce disappointment that often drove her work into gruesome corners; places where misogyny and white supremacy bear their harshest fangs and bite into all that is good and true. I benefit from both these monsters- but my privilege is not the most important difference between Butler and me. She understood "survival" in a way that I strive to now. She teaches us that the dismantlement of these dragons is paramount. She pushes me forward with answers to find.

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