“What if?” is the question that fuels the creation of some of the best science fiction and fantasy. For writers of those genres, toying around with hypotheticals doesn’t just come naturally, the ability to imagine the as-yet unimaginable is a prerequisite. But until relatively recently, the joy of building brain-bending worlds and relating epic adventures was too often out of reach for writers of color who wanted to see their work published.
But, as the books foretold, things are changing. What if a new generation of writers was exposed to everything science fiction and fantasy had to offer? And what if they were given the tools, encouragement and opportunity to build new worlds of their own? What if?
Enter the Octavia Project, WD’s inaugural charity partner for the 2018 Annual Conference! Like our conference, the Octavia Project also calls New York City home. Every year, the folks at this Brooklyn-based non-profit run a completely free month-long program called The Summer Institute, which welcomes young women and trans, gender non-conforming, or questioning youth from all over Brooklyn to come together under the banner of their namesake, legendary science fiction author Octavia Butler, to expand their world.
As its website explains, “The Octavia Project uses the creative power of science fiction to imagine new futures and greater possibilities for our world. We build spaces of imagination for Brooklyn teens, blending writing, art, science, and technology to create rich, interdisciplinary workshops that encourage critical thinking, build confidence, and develop skills in a myriad of subjects. “
This year, Writer’s Digest is proud to sponsor the full cost on one student’s attendance—$1,250—and we’re challenging our community to help us cover at least one more. This year’s conference goal is to raise a total of $2,500 to ensure two youths get to explore their love of science fiction next summer! You can help us meet that goal by donating here.
Ready to be inspired? Read on to hear about some of the Octavia Project’s success stories, straight from its founders, Meghan McNamara and Chana Porter.
3 Inspiring Teen Writers from the Octavia Project
When Nia first joined the Octavia Project in the summer of 2016, she was deeply shy—rarely smiling or speaking up in group discussions. Her writing was intense and atmospheric, playing with motifs of horror and Southern gothic traditions.
Today, Nia is back at the Octavia Project for the third summer in a row. She’s been in our Fellows program for the past two summers, a leadership track for returning older students, who act as role models and activity leaders in the program. Nia is still an intense and passionate writer. She’s been working on the same story for the past two years, about two brothers beat down by a life of crime and poverty who are then transformed into vampires, which in turn transforms their relationship to their community and themselves.
While it’s been amazing to watch Nia’s writing get even richer as she soaks up every tool and opportunity offered to her!
Britney first joined the Octavia Project as a participant in the summer of 2016. A talented artist, gifted writer, and confident leader among her peers, was a clear choice for our Fellows program in 2017. It was wonderful to watch her move into the leadership role with such grace and ease!
This summer, we are excited to share that Britney has been the first recipient of the VanderMeer Creative scholarship to Shared Worlds, an elite speculative writing camp at Wofford College in South Carolina, where her writing can develop amongst a faculty of top genre authors.
Britney’s two summers at the Octavia Project prepared her for this new adventure—including her first time on a plane, her first time being away from her parents, and her first time out of the state of New York!
Seventeen-year-old Aleiyah is also a two-time OP participant and former Fellow. She writes, “It wasn’t too long ago, when I was an excited and naive 15-year-old who wanted to change the world! The birth of my hunger, all began with the Octavia Project! I came in, not knowing that I was going to leave having learned and loved so much.”
Aleiyah was a bright, bubbly, natural leader who would fully immersed in every activity from day one. She says, “The Octavia Project was a safe space for me, and for the other girls that were involved. Being in such a supportive and encouraging environment showed me that girls can truly be supportive of one another and accomplish great things with that. I grew confident, and learned so much about my rights, culture, history, and capability as a women and women of color. I left the Octavia Project, after being involved for two years, with a hunger and agenda to change the community around me.”
Aleiyah created a non-profit organization—Kyts for Women, which provides access to resources for women in shelters. “It was the Octavia project that encouraged me and actually presented me with this amazing opportunity, and actually introduced me to the Brooklyn Community Foundation where I began working on helping women in need. So, thanks Octavia Project for being the root to my tree, and the foundation for giving me a place to create this idea!”
Go follow Aleiya’s brand new non-profit on all social media accounts @KytsforWomen!