Nalo Hopkinson: Winging It
Nalo Hopkinson grew up in Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana, before moving with her family to Toronto, Canada in 1977. Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, published in 1998, won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest, and the 1999 Locus Award for Best First Novel, and she won the 1998 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In 2000, she edited anthology Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction and published her second novel, Midnight Robber, which was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree, Jr., Nebula, and Hugo Awards. Skin Folk, a collection of her short stories, is due in December.
Official site: Nalo
for books by Nalo Hopkinson
Photo by Beth Gwinn
Excerpts from the interview:
Recently I was at a science fiction symposium at a university in North Carolina. The writer guests were me, Mary Doria Russell, and Octavia E. Butler. I'm sitting on a panel with Octavia Butler and remembering being 22 and discovering that there were black science fiction writers, and finding all her work and reading it in about a month. I just devoured it. As a 22-year-old, I hadn't even thought I could become a writer and now I'm sitting on a panel with this woman whose work meant so much to me, talking about our writing! I mean, what do I have to say? Then I get home, and there's an e-mail from a woman who says she's just read Midnight Robber and really liked it, and she's thanking me for it, saying she was on tour and it was wonderful to have this book to read when she wasn't performing. And she says, 'My name is Janis Ian.' I look up the name (which seems familiar), and she's the woman who wrote 'At Seventeen' the song that got me through being 17! So it's been scary. It sort of feels like a set-up for hubris. I'll have to wing it, as I have been doing, figuring out what I'm doing as I go along.
[The third novel]'s going to be an historical fantasy. Three different time periods, three different countries none of which I know anything about. The title will be Griffonne it's a grade of mulatto, and I am using those problematic words deliberately, because that's how black people were thought of during slavery; the plantocracy 'graded' us racially according to how much white blood we had. The word 'Griffonne' has a feminine ending, so it's a clue that I'm talking about a woman. Women who were called 'griffonnes' were very light-skinned and were supposed to be sexual temptresses for wealthy white men. I'm writing about the life of that type of woman, and about how gods come to be...
I've been finding the divisions between the science fiction community and the 'other' (mainstream literature). We in SF entrench ourselves. Sometimes that's good. It's wonderful to be in a group of people where we share language and culture, but sometimes it limits us. There are more people out there reading science fiction than is apparent from attending cons, and it's a much more diverse community than I thought. What I find frustrating when I'm reading the work of a lot of beginning writers is what feels like a failure of imagination not in the level of invention, which is often high, but in the scope: people don't seem to think they can step outside the boundaries of the genre tropes; so much work by new writers is fairly awash in brave starship captains, sullen vampires and raffish elves. The genre has room to be pretty damned big, and it changes, so pushing outside the tropes a little bit could mean the genre has to grow to encompass your vision, rather than you being constrained by the genre. We still have a certain conservatism, not just ideas but where you can go with those ideas. I find work that is horribly derivative of stuff that was original the first ten times it was done but has now degenerated into a blurry, comical shadow of its former self. We're taking the work of our classical writers and using what was their invention as the 'used furniture' of the genre, instead of thinking beyond that and inventing our own metaphors and our own ways of looking at the world.
The full interview, and bibliographic profile, is published in the October 2001 issue of Locus Magazine.
Locus previously interviewed Nalo Hopkinson in January 1999.