The Shaping Change: Remembering Octavia E. Butler Through Archives, Art, and Worldmaking Conference was held at the University of California, San Diego June 3-5, 2016. The conference brought together academics, archivists, educators, visual and textile artists, writers, activists, students and more for this unique event. Approximately 100 people attended the conference each day over the course of the three-day event.
The conference was made possible by the generous support of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, several departments and organizations on the UCSD campus and the tireless efforts of co-organizer Shelley Streeby. In many ways, it was most appropriate for the conference to be co-sponsored by the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and co-organized by Ayana Jamieson because this event was truly about Butler’s legacy, how her work and her life have inspired the intellectual, creative, emotional and professional labor of so many people of all races, genders, sexualities, and ages. The diversity of the crowd reflected the diversity of Butler’s many worlds, with women of color often center stage, leading and speaking at the front of the room. Participants viewed excerpts from M. Asli Dukan’s forthcoming documentary Invisible Universe as well as mixed media visual art from Krista Franklin, handmade books from Monica Hand, Ella Maria Ray’s“Sankofic” clay quilts and masks and more, all inspired by Butler’s work.
One of the many highlights of the weekend was hearing the life-changing impact of receiving the Carl Brandon Society’s Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop Octavia E. Butler Scholars. We also listened to excerpts of creative writing by writers and students in the MFA program at UCSD. We experienced manifestation work, an Earthseed community ritual, and a workshop on the importance of keeping an archive of our own lives. We learned about what scholars have been uncovering in Butler’s own archive at the Huntington Library, about slime molds, fan culture, life logging, digital humanities, Black Quantum Futurism, and the relationship between Butler’s work and recent speculative fiction by other writers of color. We were exposed to activist projects happening at the Mexico/US border, Farm Worker Futurism’s parallels with the Parable duology, the Free Black Women’s Library, and through the writing, editing, and distribution of the recent edited collection Octavia’s Brood.
If this seems like a lot, like more than anyone could possibly fit into two and a half days—then you understand why the days were long, and why the questions and conversations had to spill over into lunch breaks and social media. We simply could not be contained!
How many conferences have people from such different intellectual and creative background talking to and working with one another? How many conferences have panels that make half the room cry? How many conferences end with people asserting they have found the community they had long been searching for? Personally, I’ve been attending academic and creative writing conferences for ten years and I can name only two other events that feel so much like home. It is a rarity and a gift, that in this case, is a testament to the visionary work of Octavia E. Butler.
To those of us at the conference and to many others, she was not merely an author, she was an inspiration and a friend (literally, sometimes, for folks who knew her in life, metaphysically for those of us who know who through her writing and archives alone). Butler’s work and life speak to the need for diverse communities which support each other and challenge each other, embracing and shaping change within ourselves as individuals, within our smaller networks, and within the world.
For people unable to attend, you can check out much of what happened, including some most excellent photos, quotes, and links to images, websites, and videos by searching for the hashtag #ShapingChange on Twitter, or checking out this Storify by OEB Legacy Network’s own digital alchemist, Moya Bailey. Additionally, at the beginning of the conference all presenters were asked to share, at the start of their talks, their own #BecauseOfOctavia statement. This hashtag comes from a collaboration between OebLegacy and Clockshop’s yearlong celebration of the life and legacy of Butler called Radio Imagination and we encourage everyone to let us know what you have learned or done #BecauseOfOctavia throughout June, Butler’s birthday month. The Shaping Change conference was #BecauseOfOctavia and those of us in attendance will be reaping the rewards of that time together for years to come, not only because of the things we were exposed to and learned about, but also because of the connections we made and strengthened as well.