This interview with Nalo Hopkinson appeared in The Globe and Mail.
Described by Junot Diaz as “one of our most important writers,” Nalo Hopkinson is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of six novels and two short story collections, including Brown Girl in the Ring, The Salt Roads, Midnight Robber, Report From Planet Midnight and Sister Mine. Her latest book, Falling in Love with Hominids, a genre-bending collection of 18 stories, was published earlier this month. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and a long-time resident of Toronto, Hopkinson currently lives and teaches in Riverside, Calif.Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
“We need visions of the future, and our people need them more than most.” That’s black science-fiction author Samuel R. Delany, speaking at an event in Harlem a few decades ago. His words helped me when I was younger to figure out one of the many reasons it’s not frivolous for black people to read science fiction.
“What amendment to the square-cube law permitted that hulk to fly?” That’s Poul Anderson, from his 1961 novel Three Hearts and Three Lions. I cherish it because it may have been the first physics joke that I, who failed the “hard” sciences in school, ever understood. I found it doubly delicious because the speaker was talking in scientific terms about a dragon; a non-existent creature.
“Does my sexiness upset you?/Does it come as a surprise/That I dance like I have diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?” Maya Angelou, from her poem Still I Rise. Those three lines are my go-to healing balm in a world bent on shaming black women, our style, our attitude, our bodies.
You may not be allowed to print the fourth, but it’s the final four lines of the second stanza of Derek Walcott’s poem The Schooner Flight. The last line of those four brings the whole thought home in a triumphant mic drop that for me embodies the essence of the ingenuity of my birth region, the Caribbean. It gives me chills, every time.
Which historical period do you wish you’d lived through, and why?
None of them. I figure this current era of history is the one with the best chance of quality of life for a black, female, disabled, middle-aged, queer person who’s most comfortable not fitting in. The odds still aren’t great, mind you. But I’ll take my chances with the 21st century.
What scares you as a writer, and why?
It’s the thing I struggle with every day: the mental diligence and stamina needed to sit in front of the computer, open the file, start writing and to keep doing so, word after word, until I’ve created the next story. A combination of learning disability and chronic health issues make that the hardest thing for me. And if I can’t write, I’m not a writer. I know that’s eminently survivable, but still, I can scarcely bear to contemplate it. So I’m constantly coming up with new strategies for getting to the mental place where writing is so joyous and playful that I almost can’t help putting the words down. Almost.
Which country produces literature that you wish more people read?
The Caribbean region. Writers from there are producing wonderful literature that takes language, story and form and bends them into creations you would never have believed possible.
Who’s your favourite villain in literature, and why?
Frankenstein’s monster, because he’s right: Victor Frankenstein is an entitled dick who doesn’t care about the humanity of his creation.