Nalo Hopkinson’s Fantastical Fiction: A Reading List
Reviewers have tried to capture the richness—and weirdness—of Nalo Hopkinson’s work with many labels: science fiction, Afrofuturism, fantasy, speculative fiction, dystopianism, the New Weird, and more. Let’s take a cue from Hopkinson’s own “brief biography,” where she explains that her “favourite fiction has always been the various forms of fantastical fiction, everything from Caribbean folklore to Ursula K. Le Guin's science fiction and fantasy.”
That phrase “fantastical fiction” might be the best starting point for describing Hopkinson’s intensely imaginative writing. The Caribbean folklore she mentions is a powerful, colorful force in her work, though she also draws on European folklore and mythology, among other creative sources. With these elements, she creates partly familiar, partly (and wildly) fantastical worlds in which she explores race, sexuality, and the power of family relationships.
Hopkinson was born in Jamaica in 1960. Her Guyanese father Slade was a poet, playwright, and actor who taught English and Latin. Her Jamaican mother Freda was a library technician. This literary environment inspired her from early on: by age 10, Hopkinson was reading Homer and Vonnegut.
A childhood spent in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana steeped Hopkinson in Caribbean culture; moving to Toronto at age 16 gave her another culture, and perspective on where she had come from. She is now a Canadian citizen, though since 2011 she’s been living in Southern California, where she’s a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside.
Hopkinson has published six novels—one of which is YA (young adult) and another of which won a YA award—two short story collections, and a chapbook. She has many awards to her name, including the Sunburst Award (twice), but on her own website she only refers to them in passing, while focusing on more personal:
“I have fibromyalgia, and was diagnosed relatively late in life with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, which explained a lot. I like moderate sunshine, love bopping around in the surf, and dream of one day living in a converted church, fire station or library. Or in a superadobe monolithic dome home.”
Like her work, Hopkinson herself has been given a variety of labels: a queer writer, a black writer, a feminist writer, a Caribbean writer, a Canadian writer. Likewise, none of these capture the richness—or the stunning, unique weirdness—of their subject. If you want to appreciate the worlds of Nalo Hopkinson, you’ll have to stop reading descriptions and start reading books. Here’s a list to get you started.
If you’ve already read any of Nalo Hopkinson’s work, would you recommend it? And how would describe it to a newcomer? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks.