2020–21 Inscriptions

The following are the transformational figures whose names will be the 2020-2021 Inscriptions for the Future. The selection committee’s multi-step, iterative decision-making process was guided by criteria and principles that reflect core institutional values of intellectual inquiry; social responsibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. The committee’s work also drew on substantial feedback from across the College community, with nearly 500 people voting and commenting during the open comment period.

The selection committee hopes that these names, which came through a call for nominations that was open to the entire Grinnell College community, will spur further discussion and debate about who we as a community recognize and honor, and why.

  • James Baldwin

    James Baldwin

    Novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist (United States, 1924–1987).

    James Baldwin stands as one of the most significant English-language novelists, essayists, and public intellectuals of the twentieth century. His work speaks to Black experience, queer experience, and Christian experience in the United States and abroad. The selection committee noted that renewed engagement with his writing and public speaking, especially regarding race, racism, and the destructive effects of white supremacy, highlights the ongoing importance of his trenchant insights into American history, identity, and lived experiences.

    Image: Allan warren, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Stephen Bantu Biko

    Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko

    Anti-apartheid activist (South Africa, 1946–1977).

    Steve Biko exemplifies the power of young people to generate social change. His organizing work with the Black Consciousness Movement and the South African Student Organization was instrumental in propelling the movement that ultimately led to the downfall of the white supremacist Apartheid regime. Biko died while in police custody just over a year after the Soweto uprising that brought increased international attention to the Apartheid system in South Africa. The selection committee noted that Steve Biko’s legacy of non-violent, student-led social change lives on throughout the world, inspiring students at Grinnell and beyond.

    Image: Unknown photographer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Octavia Butler signing a book

    Octavia Butler

    Speculative fiction and Afrofuturist author (United States, 1947–2006).

    Octavia Butler recently became a New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed author (posthumously) thanks to her prescient speculative short stories and novels. Long before these developments, Butler’s time-bending Afrofuturism opened creative space for Black people, and especially Black women, to imagine lives and futures in which they see themselves, the value of their own experiences, and new, liberatory possibilities. The selection committee noted that Butler’s work intersects with a number of areas of our liberal arts curriculum, including English, religious studies, and computer science.

    Image: Nikolas Coukouma, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Rachel Carson

    Rachel Carson

    Marine biologist, author, and conservationist (United States, 1907–1964).

    Rachel Carson, a trailblazing marine biologist and environmental advocate, brought public attention to the effects of uncontrolled pesticide use on ecosystems and animal and human health. Her widely read Silent Spring, published in 1962, inspired public debates about environmental stewardship, including Congressional inquiries that led to increased regulation of pesticides and, eventually, to the outright ban of DDT. The selection committee noted that Silent Spring became part of Grinnell’s curriculum almost immediately upon its publication.

    Image: US gov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


  • Frida Kahlo

    Artist, painter, political activist (Mexico, 1907–1954).

    Frida Kahlo epitomizes the particular power of artistic practice to prompt critical engagement with varieties of human experience. As emphasized by the selection committee, her experiences and representation of gender, sexuality, and disability; support of working-class interests; negotiation of rural and urban environments; and interrogation of pre-Hispanic cultures of Mexico continue to inspire the kind of engagement, debate, and reflection that sit at the heart of humanistic inquiry. Kahlo’s legacy occasions critical reflection about cultural appropriation, the nature of nationalism, and representation in consumer culture, among many other topics. (Frida Kahlo’s name and image are trademarked. As a result, the inscription is pending legal review.)

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