By Lauren Koenig & E. Ozie
Up-and-coming author E. Ozie seamlessly blends science and art in her new book and in her life. By day, Ozie is a sophomore majoring in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. But her lifelong interest in the arts led her to write a book entitled “The Beautiful Math of Coral.” According to Ozie, the book is part coming-of-age story and part love story. Featuring two very different people in college trying to find their place in the world, the book also discusses topics related to identify, love, and freedom while showing how art is entwined with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). I spoke with E. Ozie to learn more about her own journey towards becoming an author and how she finds the “unconventional beauty” in STEM.
Lauren Koenig (LK): What inspired you to write a book? Have you always wanted to be an author?
E. Ozie (EO): Reading the book “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston back in high school inspired me to write a book. I love reading books with metaphors and symbolism. I feel like metaphors help make sense of some things I just hear and see, so that propelled me to create this a book about STEM and art that is filled with metaphors and symbolism. I grew up doing more artsy things than science stuff so I feel like I would have eventually written a book. Even though I am studying Mechanical Engineering, I like saying I am an engineering student making all forms of art.
LK: Do you identify with one or both of the characters in the book? If not, how did you prepare for telling this story from another perspective so different from your own?
EO: I love this question! I identify with Coral more than Fernando. Before even writing the book, I knew I was going to put a little bit of me in the book. I did that through Coral. Her journey of being lost and not knowing what path to take and if it is the right path has mirrored my journey while in college. I think also her personality is very much like mine – ambitious, unapologetically herself, and very funny. For Fernando, I did a lot of research for character development. Fernando is Mexican American and I knew I wanted to describe aspects of his cultural background in the novel to bring more beauty and make it more realistic. I used to have a mutual friend who reminded me of him. Fernando has lots of dreams and goals, but the actions he takes towards them might not always reflect that. I know a lot of people can relate to this.
LK: One of the main characters in the book feels a lot of pressure from her parents to follow a specific career. Did you ever experience a similar type of pressure and if so, how did you overcome those feelings to pursue what you wanted to do?
EO: Ever since I was young, my dad told me I had to be an engineer. I didn’t really like the sound of that. I felt pressure from him to do something for the rest of my life that he wanted me to do. I didn’t really like engineering in high school, and I don’t totally love it now either, but I think finding the aspect of art in STEM has helped me to realize there is an unconventional beauty to STEM and it’s all around us.
LK: Can you explain more about what you mean by an unconventional beauty in STEM?
EO: When I say unconventional beauty in STEM, I’m thinking about how people go into an art gallery and say the paintings are beautiful, but they can also go into a lab and work on neuroscience and say that’s beautiful too. I rarely ever hear the word beautiful associated with topics in science and math – it’s more uncommon to use that word to describe Newton’s 1st Law. There seems to be a one size fits all of what should be considered beautiful and a lot of times, STEM is not in the equation.
LK: Science and art are often pitted against each other in the general media and your main characters seem to have similarly opposing perspectives. Do you think there's more room for STEAM (STEM + art) in future professional fields?
EO: I definitely think there is more room for STEAM in future professional fields. I feel like I am still working through my studies, so I am not really familiar with all the different kind of STEAM jobs out there. But I am inspired by people like Dr. Neri Oxman who work to show others that there is art in STEM.
LK: Is that why you decided to place your novel within a college setting?
EO: I felt like since I am in college now, why not write a coming of age story set in college - I’m going through it all right now too.
LK: A lot of people have written about how access to diverse role models in STEM fields is key for encouraging and promoting underrepresented students to pursue STEM careers, including seeing underrepresented characters in fiction writing. Can you talk more about how your two main characters connect with each other, even though they both have such different backgrounds and interests? How do you think STEM fields can become more diverse?
EO: My two characters are different from each other and I did that on purpose, sort of like an ionic chemical bond (see what I did there!). I definitely think love is what helps move the story along. Coral’s developing a passion for engineering and research. Fernando’s developing love for doing computer engineering. The love they have for each other is what makes the other think, reflect, and then do. Coral’s friends counteract her views of college and her ambitions so many times, but Fernando doesn’t really do that. Fernando serves as a contrast to some of Coral’s qualities, which highlights those particular traits, while Coral does the same for Fernando.
I think STEM can be more diverse by encouraging kids at a young age. But I also feel like even when you are in college and you are so sure of your future, things can get overwhelming. Establishing that support system for underrepresented groups in STEM in college can help with that. I think pushing stories like mine, that feel big and bold, can help show people from diverse groups that it’s okay to take up space and more of you are needed to generate new things and ideas.
LK: Many of our readers are aspiring writers themselves. What have been the most challenging and rewarding parts of the writing process? Do you have any writing advice or tips?
EO: I feel like in the beginning of writing this book I had lots of fears. Will I make sense? Do I actually want people to read this book? Is talking about love and STEM needed? As I tried to establish a social media presence, some of these fears washed away as I gained community. There are so many writers that are going through what I am going through. It feels like you are vulnerable when you put out a book and want people to read it. Vulnerability is courage. It’s most rewarding to hear people say my book seems really cool and they are excited for it. I also enjoy when I’m just going about my life and a line comes to me that I should put in my book. I had lots of quick ideas like that while working on this book. And that is the thing, I never stopped thinking about my characters when writing the book. Some writing advice I would like to give is RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. I feel like I never left the research phase. I believe what makes books so good is that the authors did extensive research to make their books realistic and come alive. My research phase helped me see the direction of the book and figure out where it was going. I was able to get inspiration for my novel by watching movies and TV shows, reading articles, and doing interviews.
LK: After the fundraiser is complete, when might we expect to be able to purchase your book?
EO: After the fundraiser is complete, you can expect to purchase it the last week of April 2021 on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.
Interested in learning more about the book? You can hear what it’s all about from E. Ozie herself:
To learn more about E. Ozie’s work, you can also follow her her linktree and read about her book on her fundraising page.
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