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June 2007
Locus Magazine
Nalo Hopkinson: Multiplicity
Nalo Hopkinson was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up there and in Trinidad and Guyana, with some time in the US, before moving with her family to Toronto when she was 17. She graduated with honors in Russian and French from York University, and has lived in Toronto ever since.

Hopkinson's first professional SF sale was short story "Riding the Red" (1997), which she wrote at the Clarion workshop in 1995. First novel Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest and the Locus Award for best first novel; Hopkinson also won the 1998 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best New Writer. Second novel Midnight Robber appeared in 2000
Photo by Liza Groen Trombi

Author N. Nalo Hopkinson
and was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Tiptree, Dick, and Sunburst Awards. The Salt Roads (2003) was a Nebula finalist and won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. Her latest book, The New Moon's Arms, appeared in early 2007, and Blackheart Man is forthcoming.

She's edited anthologies including Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (2000) and Aurora Award winner Tesseracts Nine: New Canadian Speculative Fiction (2005, with Geoff Ryman). Hopkinson has taught at Clarion, Clarion West, and Clarion South, and helped found the Carl Brandon Society, devoted to addressing the representation of people of color in SF and fantasy.
Excerpts from the interview:

“Writers have to live in more than two worlds. The intellectual life of the Caribbean was available to me when I was growing up, through my parents, but being a science fiction and fantasy reader was strange. (There are still very few people in the Caribbean writing SF.) But I think being Caribbean, you're aware of being a multiplicity. Pretty much all of us who come from there are of mixed-race backgrounds, no matter what we look like. And they are really pluralist societies -- have been for centuries, though of course there are similar issues of systemic racism. But you have that sense of both being from there and knowing your ancestry comes from somewhere else as well, whether that be China, India, Africa, Europe, and/or from the original indigenous Arawak peoples..... That prismatic sensibility (thank you, Pamela Mordecai, for the concept) is fairly common to people in the Caribbean, and in some ways that has made it natural for me to work in science fiction and fantasy; the medium is so plastic.”


“Fiction's not autobiography in a party dress. The story is the story. If I wanted to write fictionalized autobiography I could, but that's not what I'm doing. I'm not saying I don't draw from experience in my books -- everybody does. There was an American woman writer in the 19th century, Frances Trollope, who said, 'Of course I draw from life. But I always pulp my acquaintance before serving them up. You would never recognize a pig in a sausage.'”


“I think the boundaries in SF/F/H are already boundless enough that there's room for work like mine. Some people trap themselves. People talk about this impassible divide between science fiction and mainstream literature, and you can see them building the walls themselves. It's not that the divide isn't there, but I don't need to reinforce it. It is permeable. I do have an advantage, coming from outside. I didn't grow up inculcated in what it means to be a science fiction writer, and I grew up within a literary community that did not make rigid genre distinction. I'm a science fiction writer and reader by choice; nobody imposed this on me! For years I did not know there was an argument between those who like science fiction and those who like fantasy. Whichever you prefer is fine, but when you start to say that's the only legitimate kind....”


“"Every so often I come up with a different definition of what science fiction and fantasy do, and I'm always looking for one that describes what they both do, rather than separating them. Currently I'm saying that one of the things they do is look at the effects of large-scale social change on both populations and individuals. Fantasy tends to look to the past, and science fiction to the future, but what is common to many of the stories is change: huge societal upheaval.

“My first two novels and Skin Folk all had the Warner Aspect label on the spine and were clearly marketed as genre, but the last two have not (even before Warner became Hachette and dropped its Aspect imprint). In The New Moon's Arms, I wanted to write a book with a more conventional, straightforward plot. In some ways, it's also a book about a smaller dilemma: it's one person and the changes she needs to make in her life, and the larger socioeconomic stuff is backgrounded. It's different from what I usually do, so I worry how my usual readers will respond. But I'm content with the book. When I'm speaking to audiences and I say, 'This is a book in which menopause is magic,' every female in that audience goes 'Yeah!' (The damned thing needs some magic.)

Blackheart Man is set in a Caribbean with an alternate fantastical history, if I can do that -- I'll find out if I can do that! And I'm still doing the research for the third book I owe my publisher. I think that one is going to be set in late 19th-century Toronto. I know it's going to involve cross-dressing, tightrope walking, and Zulu warriors, but other than that I don't really have a plot yet!”

© 2007 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.