On Saturday 18 June, 2016, at Harbourfront in the Fleck Dance Theatre, author Nalo Hopkinson revealed her quick-step mind to an audience that came in part from the four-day Canadian Writers’ Summit. Fans of her work were there, too, and possibly the scattered laughter at her Star Trek reference meant they were more alert to her humour than the summit-fatigued writers. All, however, enjoyed Hopkinson ‘s delight when she shared with us the results of one of her Internet searches: yes, seniors do hip hop. Even better, there is a group called The Hiphop Operation. This came up during her discussion of her writing process (yes to Internet searches).
Hopkinson connects her fiction to movement. As she explained, she needs visual information to be in motion because of her non-verbal learning disorder. For her, then, fiction is an artificial object in motion on a trajectory. Her writing process includes “near wordless blurts of inspiration.” And words trace a shape in her mind. You can hear her talk about the art of description on this Ted Talk, if you are not fortunate enough to be one of her students in the Creative Writing Department at the University of California, Riverside.
During her keynote address of June 18, Hopkinson talked about how North American culture values mimetic fiction over science fiction, fantasy, or speculative fiction. And that it shouldn’t. “Stories needn’t be factual in order to be true.” What stories can do is explain the world concisely. People tell themselves stories from early childhood onward: “Human beings understand the world through narrative.” If fiction moves between past and present, why shouldn’t it also move into the future, she asked. “Why should a time-based art limit itself to the past and present?”
More importantly, why is fiction set in the future not considered literature? It is hard to imagine that an author with nine published books to her name, and the editor of at least four collections, would have to justify her literary form. Yet she has. As she told us ruefully, “I’ve had people try to liberate me from genre shame.”
Asked by a member of the audience how she came to write science fiction and fantasy, she said she has never not read fantasy. Influenced by her parents (father an actor, poet, playwright, mother a librarian), she was an early reader, availing herself of the books at the library in Kingston, Jamaica. By age 9-10, she had read Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut. At eleven she’d read Homer. Then she moved on to Jamaican folktales, some of which show up, metamorphosed, in her latest collection of short stories, Falling in Love With Hominids (San Francisco: Tachyon Publications 2015).
I found some of the stories in Falling in Love With Hominids grim and discomfiting. Just as I was wondering if I could ask what had happened to the hope in fantasy, someone else in the audience asked if social justice has a role to play in scifi or fantasy. Yes, in short. “I try to write from the perspective of people whose stories don’t get told.” One of the things speculative literature can do is look, concisely, at the world we are building.
Nalo Hopkinson’s author credits include the 2008 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic for The New Moon’s Arms and the 2003 Sunburst Award for her story collection Skin Folk, which also won the World Fantasy Award in 2002. Her novels include Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), The New Moon’s Arms (2007), The Salt Roads (2003), Midnight Robber (2000) and Sister Mine (winner of 2013 Andre Norton Nebula Award). Her first young adult novel, The Chaos, was published in 2012. She is the editor of fiction anthologies Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, and Mojo: Conjure Stories. At the University of California since 2011, Nalo Hopkinson previously made her home in Toronto, having arrived there in 1977 via her birthplace Jamaica (born 1960), and abodes in Trinidad and Guyana.
- Nalo Hopkinson’s website is down, but here are some links to her talks and interviews.
- Click here for Nalo Hopkinson’s entry on the Science Fiction Encyclopedia.
- Diversity in Science Fiction – It Came from Riverside – UCTV short talk by Nalo Hopkinson in 2013.
- Nalo Hopkinson talks about race on TVO via YouTube.
- I found this announcement about a new award launched by Hopkinson, the Lemonade Award, by following a link from a WordPress site, thisisdarkmatters.org, which linked to www.tor.com, which linked to the full story on strangehorizons.com.
- Take a sneak peek at her work at this Free Speculative Fiction Online site. Wait, do I approve of this free fiction? A panel discussion that I missed at the Canadian Writers Summit was standing-room only, according to this CBC report, on copyright and how authors and publishers are losing out when it comes to income from educational books.
- Nalo Hopkinson in conversation with Shad on CBC Radio online 25 November 2015.
- Wired interview, Episode 81 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.
- Special issue of Strange Horizons on Nalo Hopkinson.
I know what she means about genre shaming, but there must be a fair number of us science fiction and fantasy fans or The Game of Thrones tv series wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is. I’m very pleased you’ve given me someone new (to me, that is) to read.
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Nalo was one of the mentors at the Humber Creative Writing Program the year I was enrolled. She offered great comments on our “blackboard” forum for all students, and didn’t only work with her own students. I appreciated her engagement with the rest of us.
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