Hopkinson, Nalo 1960–
Hopkinson, Nalo 1960–
Born December 20, 1960, in Kingston Jamaica; immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1977; daughter of Slade (a poet and actor) and Freda (a library technician) Hopkinson. Education: Graduated from York University; Seton Hill College, M.A., 1995.
Home—Toronto, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, 1997—. Has also worked in a library and as a grants officer for a local arts council. Instructor at various writing workshops.
Warner Aspect first novel award, 1997, Philip K. Dick Award nominee, Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, and Ontario Arts Council Foundation award for emerging writers, both 1998, and John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and Locus Award for best first novel, both 1999, all for Brown Girl in the Ring; New York Times notable book of the year, 2000, and Nebula Award nominee, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Philip K. Dick Award nominee, and Hugo Award nominee, World Science Fiction Society, all 2001, all for Midnight Robber; Sunburst Award for Canadian literature of the fantastic, 2003, for Skin Folk; Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for black writing shortlist citation, and Gaylactic Spectrum Award for GLBTQ themes in science fiction and fantasy, both 2004, both for The Salt Roads; Aurora Award, 2006, for Tesseracts 9; Aurora Award shortlist, 2006, for Six Impossible Things, and 2005, for So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy.
Brown Girl in the Ring, Warner Aspect (New York, NY), 1998.
Midnight Robber, Warner Aspect (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor) Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, Invisible Cities Press, 2000.
Skin Folk (short story collection), Warner Aspect (New York, NY), 2001.
The Salt Roads, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor, with Uppinder Mehan) So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, introduction by Samuel R. Delany, Arsenal Pulp Press (Vancouver, BC), 2004.
(Editor, with Geoff Ryman) Tesseracts Nine: New Canadian Speculative Fiction, EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (Calgary, AB), 2005.
The New Moon's Arms, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Editor of Mojo: Conjure Stories, Warner Books (New York, NY). Contributor of short stories to anthologies, including Dark Matter, edited by Sheree Thomas and Martin Simmons; Women of Other Worlds, edited by Helen Merrick and Tess Williams; Northern Suns, edited by David Hartwell and Glenn Grant; Black Swan, White Raven, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, 1997; Silver Birch, Blood Moon, edited by Datlow and Windling; Tesseracts 6, edited by Carolyn Clink and Rob Sawyer, 1997; and Northern Frights 5, edited by Don Hutchinson, 1997. Author of radio plays, including Riding the Red and Indicator Species, CBC Radio. Contributor of short stories and book reviews to periodicals, including Exile, Fireweed, and Science Fiction Weekly.
"Greedy Choke Puppy" was adapted as a play of the same name, produced by Seeing Ear Theatre.
Nalo Hopkinson is an award-winning science-fiction writer whose work blends African, Caribbean, and Creole folklore with the conventions of the science-fiction and fantasy genre. Critics have responded favorably to her work, especially for its touches of magic realism and underlying themes of race and gender. Hopkinson's debut novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, which won the Warner Aspect First Novel contest and a major publishing deal, introduces readers to a milieu consisting of a dystopian science-fiction setting interwoven with Afro-Caribbean folklore and the patois dialect that has since come to be associated with many of her works.
The daughter of Guyanese poet, playwright, and actor Slade Hopkinson, Hopkinson grew up in a literary atmosphere. As a child she met Nobel-winning writer Derek Walcott, who founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop where her father directed plays. Though born in Jamaica, Hopkinson passed through Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States before her family settled in Toronto, Canada. Despite the family's mobility, Hopkinson grew up in a household filled with books and one that had a healthy respect for the arts.
Though she initially had no lifelong dream of becoming a writer, Hopkinson—always a science fiction fan—was inspired when she discovered that some of her favorite writers, notably Samuel R. Delaney, were black. Once she discovered other science-fiction writers of color, such as Octavia Butler, Steve Barnes, and Virginia Hamilton, she began to understand that the most common trope of science fiction was one in which "white people use technology to overpower alien cultures," as she told Gregory E. Rutledge in the African American Review. Hopkinson believes that this is a primary reason why black writers have largely avoided the genre. Instead, she began to imagine a different kind of sci- ence fiction; one told from a black woman's point of view that deals with the shibboleths of African and Caribbean society. "I think that a speculative literature from a culture that has been on the receiving end of the colonization glorified in some [SF] could be a compelling body of writing," she told Rutledge.
The title of Hopkinson's first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, comes from a Caribbean schoolyard game. A dystopian story, the novel is set in the near future in the desolate neighborhoods of Toronto, which have been abandoned by those who can afford to live elsewhere. Those residents who remain have been barricaded inside and left to fend for themselves. Farming and bartering have become their new way of life.
Ti-Jeanne is a single mother dealing with a new baby and her drug-addict boyfriend, Tony. When Tony gets in trouble with a gang leader, Rudy, Ti-Jeanne asks her wise grandmother for help. Gros-Jeanne, or Mami, a healer, herbalist, and practitioner of Afro-Caribbean spiritual beliefs, helps bring Ti-Jeanne into the spirit world. But soon Ti-Jeanne finds herself battling Rudy and also coming to terms with the mother she lost long ago—the mother that is now Rudy's captive spirit. Thus, Hopkinson sets up a multi-generational novel of people coping against evil in a violent and magical world. The novel was partly inspired by Walcott's play, "Ti-Jean and His Brothers," in which three brothers battle the devil. "I wanted to acknowledge that connection to [Walcott's] work," Hopkinson told Rutledge, "so I named the three women Ti-Jeanne, Mi-Jeanne, and Gros-Jeanne," the feminine equivalents of Walcott's characters.
The novel, in which characters speak in a rich Afro-Caribbean patois, received a positive response from reviewers. A critic for Kirkus Reviews called the book a "splendid if gruesome debut, superbly plotted and redolent of the rhythms of Afro-Caribbean speech." Booklist's Bonnie Johnston felt that Hopkinson's "exotically imaginative debut is just realistic enough," while Faren Miller of Locus noted that "what propels this fast-paced work is the author's gift for passionate, vivid, tale-spinning." Miller concluded that "Hopkinson is a genuine find." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas commented that Hopkinson "treats spirit-calling the way other science fiction writers treat nanotechnology or virtual reality."
Though David Streitfeld, writing in the Washington Post, felt that Brown Girl in the Ring "has the usual first novel faults in pacing and plotting," he praised the book's "richness of language," which "more than compensates" for any such faults. Streitfeld called Brown Girl in the Ring "an impressive debut." A writer for Publishers Weekly focused on the oral tradition in Hopkinson's work: "The musical rhythms of Caribbean voices and the earthy spirit-magic of obeah knit together this unusual fantasy." The reviewer concluded that "Hopkinson's writing is smooth and assured, and her characters lively and believable." Carol DeAngelo, reviewing the novel in the School Library Journal, called the book an "outstanding science-fiction novel" as well as a "page-turner that builds to an exciting conclusion."
Hopkinson's second novel, Midnight Robber, takes place on the planet Toussaint, which has been colonized by people from the Caribbean. Antonio Habib is the powerful mayor of Cockpit County, and his daughter Tan-Tan is the product of privilege. The planet is the picture of harmony, ministered by "Granny Nanny," an artificial intelligence that monitors everyone through aural implants. Miscreants are exiled to New Half-Way Tree, an alternate universe to Toussaint, so when Habib runs afoul of the law, killing his wife's lover, that is where he and his daughter end up. Habib remarries, but his anger gets the better of him. As her father's fortunes dwindle and he spirals into sexual excess and drunkenness, Tan-Tan struggles to find her own way. After he impregnates her, she finally kills him. At age sixteen, she is now on the run, hiding from her father's widow. In the bush she learns the secrets of the native intelligent species and transforms herself into a female version of the Midnight Robber, a Caribbean Carnival figure who dresses in black and tells stories to those he waylays. As the Robber Queen, Tan-Tan fights to survive on New Half-Way Tree. Again the story combines Caribbean and African myths and language. An allegory of displacement and diaspora, Midnight Robber "bears evidence that Hopkinson owns one of the more important and original voices in SF," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Many critics were impressed with Hopkinson's use of language in Midnight Robber. Reviewing the novel for SFSite.com, David Soyka wrote that "Hopkinson has established herself as a unique voice in the SF and Fantasy genre, largely because that voice is grounded in the rhythms, myths, and vernacular of Caribbean and Creole cultures." Booklist's Roberta Johnson called attention to Hopkinson's "exhilarating prose," which "drives an exciting story that continues with Tan-Tan befriending New Half-Way Tree's natives and coming to terms with self-hatred." A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Hopkinson's "rich and complex Carib English can be hard to follow at times, but is nonetheless quite beautiful." The reviewer also called Toussaint and New Half-Way Tree "believable, lushly detailed worlds." School Library Journal's Francisca Goldsmith concluded that the book "provides an engaging nexus of science fiction and folklore."
Hopkinson is also the author of the short-story collection Skin Folk. Many of the stories were originally published in literary journals and anthologies, and all of them feature her trademark blend of fantasy and folklore. For the story "A Habit of Waste," Hopkinson was inspired by her father's poem about a Jamaican bag lady. Other short stories include "Riding the Red," "Precious," "Money Tree," and "Slow Cold Chick." Gerald Jonas noted in the New York Times Book Review that many of her tales "are not only set in black communities, they make use of West African-derived folklore and language patterns to create fresh worlds and emotionally compelling situations." Booklist reviewer Roberta Johnson commented on Skin Folk's "broad range of subjects," and called the stories "a delightful introduction" to Hopkinson's earlier work. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised her "strong evocation of place and her ear for dialect," concluding that "underneath [Skin Folk] is a sure grasp of humanity, good and bad, and the struggle to understand and to communicate."
Having already edited Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction in 2000, Hopkinson stepped into the role of editor for the second time with Mojo: Conjure Stories, an anthology of West African-inspired stories written by award-winning writers such as Neil Gaiman and Steven Barnes. Drag queens and Elvis impersonators populate Barth Anderson's "Lark till Dawn, Princess," while Creole cooking and zombies figure prominently in other stories. A writer for Publishers Weekly complimented the collection's stories, which "skillfully blend West African magic, fantasy, horror, along with plain old-fashioned readability." The theme of using "supernatural powers able to exact revenge, justice, or simple relief in the lives of Africans in the diaspora," wrote Vanessa Bush in Booklist, makes these "wonderful stories for fans of any genre fiction."
In The Salt Roads Hopkinson moves away from science fiction toward a more traditional literature, even though the hallmarks of her earlier work are still in evidence. The Afro-Caribbean goddess of love and sex, Ezili, is the common thread among three women in different eras of history: Meritet, an Egyptian prostitute in 300 A.D., Mer, an eighteenth-century slave, and Jeanne Duval, a real-life mixed-race woman who was Charles Baudelaire's lover. The far-ranging narrative encompasses Haitian folktales, all in a style reminiscent of magic realism. The story begins with three slave women summoning up Ezili as they prepare to bury a stillborn baby on the island of Saint Domingue in 1804, before it became Haiti. Ezili finds herself infused with the dead baby's vitality, which allows her to inhabit the bodies of Mer, Jeanne, and Meritet, who are linked to one another through the salt in their tears and the salt that bound them into their personal slavery.
As with Hopkinson's previous novels, critics reacted favorably to The Salt Roads. "The novel has a genuine vitality and generosity," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Devon Thomas of the Library Journal said that "though the goddess connects the three women together, the women's tales themselves are much more interesting." Hopkinson told Wilda Williams of the Library Journal that parts of the story were inspired by Angela Carter's story "The Black Venus," which is also a fictional account of Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval. The purpose of the book, Hopkinson told Williams, is "to explore the issue of biracial women and how that complicates relationships between women, especially black women." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, recognized that theme. "Like Erica Jong," Seaman wrote, "Hopkinson uses sex to entice readers into contemplating the long history of misogyny, specifically women's suffering during the African diaspora." Details of life in French-colonial Haiti, the ancient brothels of Alexandria, and nineteenth-century France lend historical authenticity to the book, according to a writer for Kirkus Reviews, who called The Salt Roads "a centuries-spanning panorama of the cultural collision between Africa and Europe."
In The New Moon's Arms, Hopkinson explores the fantastic elements of life in the fictional Caribbean island nation of Cayaba. Her protagonist is Chastity Lambkin (known to all as "Calamity") who is approaching aging and menopause with dread. She has just lost her father, and her relationship with her daughter Ifeomo is strained at best. After her father's funeral, however, she finds a lost child on the island's beach—a boy who has emerged from the sea and may be one of the merpeople. "Meanwhile," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "objects from her past keep reappearing, timed with hot flashes: her childhood toys and books, a bloody machete, even the cashew grove her father planted on another island." "She ends up fostering the child—who adores her—and with the child, her own relationship with her daughter comes into focus, on both sides, and she has to take a good, hard look at herself," Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction reviewer Michelle West stated. "Calamity proves emotionally adroit and winningly frank in a variety of situations," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic, "… and Hopkinson … gives her story a sassy, loving touch." "Once again," Ahmad Wright concluded in Black Issues Book Review, "Hopkinson weaves a wonderful tale, one rich in fantastical storytelling."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 251: Canadian Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
African American Review, winter, 1999, Gregory E. Rutledge, "Speaking in Tongues: An Interview with Science-Fiction Writer Nalo Hopkinson," p. 589.
Ariel, January 1, 2002, "‘Caught by a … Genre’: An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson," p. 175.
Black Issues Book Review, March 1, 2004, "A Traveling Female Spirit: Nalo Hopkinson Takes Her Inspiration from the Magic of the Caribbean and the Strength of Women," p. 38; March 1, 2007, Ahmad Wright, review of The New Moon's Arms, p. 25.
Booklist, May 15, 1998, Bonnie Johnston, review of Brown Girl in the Ring, p. 1602; February 15, 2000, Roberta Johnson, review of Midnight Robber, p. 1091; November 1, 2001, Roberta Johnson, review of Skin Folk, p. 463; April 1, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of Mojo: Conjure Stories, p. 1380; October 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of The Salt Roads, p. 299; February 1, 2007, Ray Olson, review of The New Moon's Arms, p. 32.
Book World, March 11, 2007, "Lost and Found: A Caribbean Woman with Magical Abilities Discovers a 4-year-old Boy on Her Beach," p. 7.
Callaloo, January 1, 2003, "An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson," p. 146.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1998, review of Brown Girl in the Ring; September 15, 2001, review of Skin Folk, p. 1329; October 15, 2003, review of The Salt Roads, p. 1242; November 15, 2006, review of The New Moon's Arms, p. 1147.
Library Journal, February 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Midnight Robber, p. 201; September 1, 2003, Wilda Williams, "Genre Fiction with a Twist," p. 36; September 1, 2003, Devon Thomas, review of The Salt Roads, p. 207; November 15, 2006, Joy St. John, review of The New Moon's Arms, p. 56.
Locus, May, 1998, Farren Miller, review of Brown Girl in the Ring; January, 1999, "Nalo Hopkinson: Many Perspectives."
Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, August 1, 2007, Michelle West, review of The New Moon's Arms, p. 36.
New York Times Book Review, July 12, 1998, Gerald Jonas, review of Brown Girl in the Ring, p. 26; July 30, 2000, Gerald Jonas, "Science Fiction."
Publishers Weekly, June 8, 1998, review of Brown Girl in the Ring, p. 51; January 3, 2000, review of Midnight Robber, p. 61; October 15, 2001, review of Skin Folk, p. 51; March 3, 2003, a review of Mojo, p. 58; July 21, 2003, review of The Salt Roads, p. 171; October 23, 2006, review of The New Moon's Arms, p. 28.
School Library Journal, November, 1998, Carol DeAngelo, review of Brown Girl in the Ring, p. 160; June, 2000, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Midnight Robber, p. 173.
Washington Post, August 30, 1998, David Streitfeld, "Science Fiction and Fantasy."
Danforth Review,http://www.danforthreview.com/ (September 9, 2007), Danielle Couture, "TDR Interview: Nalo Hopkinson."
Nalo Hopkinson Web site,http://nalohopkinson.com (September 9, 2007).
SFFWorld.com,http://www.sffworld.com/ (September 9, 2007), "Interview with Nalo Hopkinson."
SFSite.com,http://www.sfsite.com/ (September 9, 2007), David Soyka, review of Midnight Robber.
Strange Horizons,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (September 9, 2007), J.C. Runolfson, review of The New Moon's Arms.