D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem Teaches Sci-Fi and Survival

Octavia Butler survival pack in progress by Delaney Eubanks. Image courtesy of the "Chicago Tribune"

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem (MFA 2004) uses Octavia Butler’s book Parable of the Sower as the basis for a fall 2018 professional practices class titled, Take Root Among the Stars: The Legacy of Octavia Butler, Surviving the 21st Century & Beyond. The course was designed and inspired by Butler and the themes of of climate change, wealth inequality, drugs, war, and water shortages present in her work.

Students in Duyst-Akpem’s class were tasked with creating “go packs” that they then filled with objects and items they would take with them for survival. The packs ranged from practical to more conceptual with some students including maps or poems and others including soft, comforting items or culturally significant ones. These packs were placed on display during a pop-up exhibit on December 12 called Take Root Among the Stars and will remain on display in the sixth floor library cases at the John M. Flaxman Library through January 26. “What I hope students and visitors gain in experiencing the exhibition is how we engage Butler’s work in the creation of our own and how we can feel powerful in building those visionary muscles,” Duyst-Akpem told the Chicago Tribune. Duyst-Akpem designed the course a way to celebrate the work of Octavia Butler and apply it to the lives of students who developed their packs as a means of investigating survival and the ability to thrive in difficult circumstances. Duyst-Akpem said she chose to work with Butler’s fiction because it shows readers how to use imagination and science-fiction to reconstruct their own realities.