The first time a student arrives at Western, they aren’t promised friendship, but they are guaranteed a new book.
Through the program Western Reads, students, staff and faculty members can suggest a book to be featured in the upcoming school year. Western Reads Director Molly Ware said the choice for the next academic year is “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.”
“Octavia’s Brood” is a collection of short stories written by activists, classified as speculative fiction. One of the committee members, instructor Susanne Seales, said this genre deals with topics and themes that address multiple, real issues in a fictionalized setting.
“It’s definitely relatable to both fantasy and sci-fi,” Seales said. “But here you put all of that dystopian, scary stuff that you get with sci-fi with hopeful threads woven into it.”
Compiled by two editors, Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown, “Octavia’s Brood” was named after Octavia Butler, an award-winning science fiction writer who died in 2006, Seales said.
“She carved out a niche for herself as a woman of color in a genre that, when she started publishing, was mainly white and male,” Seales said.
Ware said Octavia Butler has had an incredible impact working for social justice. Butler has opened spaces for the possibilities and struggles involved in creating a better future, which is what this book is doing as well.
Ware said she hopes “Octavia’s Brood” provides a supportive lens for first-year students and marginalized students to understand and thrive during this transition.
“I believe their experimental approach can help us, as a campus, create spaces to engage in the complex and fraught struggle for change alongside hope, to step out of binaries and into the painful and beautiful process of transformation that creating a better world always entails,” Ware said in an email.
“She carved out a niche for herself as a woman of color in a genre that, when she started publishing, was mainly white and male,”
Susanne Seales said.
By choosing this book, Seales said they thought it would spark more cross-campus dialogue.
Sophomore Robbie Bernstein was in Seales’ First-year Interest Group last year. During the class, they referred to the Western Reads pick “Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“I think Ta-Nehisi Coates’ experience is really interesting,” Bernstein said. “It can be applied to many different aspects of race relations in this country.”
While he expressed gratitude, he said it was a mistake for Western Reads not to make it a mandatory part of the curriculum.
“We’re very busy,” Bernstein said. “A lot of people, if there’s no motivation to read it, won’t.”
Freshman Meghan LaVelle read their class pick “Tulalip, From My Heart” for Fairhaven 201: Indigenous Women of the World. She said she would not have picked the book out herself.
“It was a good book to have, but if someone doesn’t need it for class, then they’re not going to read it,” LaVelle said.
She said she sees promise in expanding the interaction with books in the classroom setting. In regards to “Octavia’s Brood,” she likes that there is a fictional aspect which could attract more people.
Right now, Western Reads partners with the Pickford Film Center, Village Books and the Whatcom Museum, along with hosting many formal and informal discussions about the yearly book.
“We want to create a space where students can have more of a presence in programming ideas instead of it being completely ironed out in the beginning,” Seales said.
Ware said they will be looking for students, staff and faculty who want to join the Western Reads committee starting Winter 2019. They will be hosting a session Wednesday, May 23, at 4 p.m. for students to help them plan for the coming year.
To RSVP for the session, email Ware at Molly.Ware@wwu.edu. The event location is undetermined at this time.