Following the passing of acclaimed science fiction writer Octavia Butler in 2006, and the naming of Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy’s library in her honor last year, the author’s alma mater continues to follow her path.
For the non-parent readers, STEAM is a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math academy, one of several such academies in the Pasadena Unified School District.
The school has just recently announced a Science Fiction writing contest for its students, named for the Pasadena writer.
As librarian Natalie Daily described the event, “It’s the idea of (Butler) representing a very, unique way of integrating science and the arts, and bringing that to the world and her award-winning writing. And we want to inspire our students to have a love of reading and writing as she had, and kind of spur that type of connection to reading and writing and STEAM throughout our school.”
“We have a beautifully unique opportunity to link our theme of justice with literacy and writing,” continued Daily, “and the fact that there’s such a renowned author who came through our halls, who did so much research in her science fiction writing and really did her very best to ground it in scientific principles.”
Daily also pointed out that she had recently read A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky by Lynell George, a 2020 biography of Butler, and noted that, “it’s very inspiring to see all of those connections that she made from a really young age. It’s just a very inspiring look at her life and how someone can work so hard to put all that together.”
Daily also said that as the Coronavirus pandemic has affected the school yet, the contest is starting small with participation only at Washington STEAM so far. The school hopes to extend the contest district-wide next year.
“We hope that we have a lot of interest this year,” she said.
“We’re starting very small and we’re keeping it very manageable and we’re doing what we can to make it safe.”
Daily added, “We really hope that we can get a lot of enthusiasm about it. The teachers are directly supporting the students in writing pieces and in the classroom, which I think will help.”
According to Daily, dystopian science-fiction is popular among young readers and would-be writers.
“That’s what kids this age want to read about,” she said. “They love complicated plots, things with twists as well as stuff where everything’s going bad and there’s this group of young people who are going to save the day with their friends.”
The contest winners will be announced February 19th, near the end of African-American Month, said Washington STEAM Academy principal Shannon Malone.
It would also make a connection between that month and March, which is Women’s History Month, said Malone.
“We are trying to tie in the intersections between those groups and what they have contributed to our society and to the community of Pasadena, specifically,” she said.
“In the future, this could grow into something bigger,” Malone added, “to celebrate the talents of Washington STEAM students and the new ways in which they will contribute to Pasadena because of the opportunities they experienced at our incredible school.”
WSMA students can find contest information in their Library course on Canvas, PUSD’s learning management system. Students can submit a short narrative, work of art, graphic fiction, drama, or poem. Contest entry form: https://tinyurl.com/OEBCONTEST
Students can also turn in their entries at the WSMA main office.
Washington STEAM is a middle school open to students in grades 6-8. Families can view 3D tours and sign up for live virtual tours online at pusd.us/wsmatours.