Trumbull school board votes to add acclaimed Black sci-fi novel to curriculum

"Parable of the Sower," by Octavia E. Butler. (Grand Central Publishing/TNS)
"Parable of the Sower," by Octavia E. Butler. (Grand Central Publishing/TNS)Grand Central Publishing/TNS

TRUMBULL — Andrea Fonseca believes that books can provide "mirrors and windows" for young people. 

Fonseca, co-chair of Trumbull's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, spoke at the Dec. 13 Board of Education meeting in support of adding Octavia E. Butler's 1993 science fiction novel "Parable of the Sower" to the 12th grade curriculum.

Butler is a Black author and the book touches on such topics as climate change and race relations. Fonseca said having students read books by authors from a variety of backgrounds is crucial. 

"They need the opportunities for mirrors and windows," she said. "Students need to see themselves in what they read and they need to know and hear the perspectives of others in their reading as well."

Fonseca was one of several people who spoke in favor of adding "Parable of the Sower" to the curriculum, which the board eventually voted to do. 

The addition of the novel was one of multiple curriculum additions Assistant Superintendent of School Susan Iwanicki spoke about during a presentation to the board at the meeting. Iwanicki said "Parable of Sower" would be added to the reading list for African American Literature, a 12th grade elective class.

"Parable of the Sower" is about a young girl named Lauren Olamina who can feel other people’s pain and pleasure, and who becomes displaced from her home.

Iwanicki said the book "fills an important gap in (what is known as) Afrofuturism." According to the minutes of the Nov. 29 meeting of the Board of Education's curriculum committee, Afrofuturism "is essentially the idea of a world that is not disrupted by slavery and colonialism and that focuses on hope and community. Other examples would be the 'Black Panther' movies and the kind of alternative future that could arise from this movement."

During the board's discussion of the book, board member Jackie Norcel asked about Iwanicki's statement on the book filling "gaps."

"You talk about a gap. I don’t know what the gaps are. What are they reading?" Norcel said.

Fellow board member Julia McNamee, who is on the curriculum committee, said she know the class curriculum already contains some slave narratives and works by Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston.

Butler's book "is in such a different category," McNamee said. Indeed, the paper presenting the book for approval mention that science fiction is a "genre often overlooked in Black literature."

The board eventually voted 7 to 1 to add the book to the curriculum for the African American Literature class.