Nalo Hopkinson Interview
March 6, 2007,
I’m sitting with Nalo Hopkinson, author and editor of many books starting
with Brown girl in the ring and topping it off most recently with The new Moon’s arms. I’m really fortunate to know Nalo. One because she’s cute as all hell. Its not just her looks but its that Caribbean/Canadian accent peppered with words like “bloody” and “Yum”. She’s also one of the most consistently banging sci-fi/speculative fictive/magical realist writers today. I first met Nalo after she came to my rescue on an internet forum which will remain nameless. Since then we’ve been buddies. She was gracious enough to take time away from her adoring public to sit down with the Afrogeek and let him pick her brain.
Me: How does it feel to be one of the primary science fiction/ speculative
fiction writers of color?
Nalo: You know I’m going to argue with the term, right?
Me: I’m hoping you do.
Nalo: It feels bloody weird. I’m not one of the primary anything. I’m one of the few, so de facto I’m one of the primary. It still feel bloody weird. No, I’m not going to tell a story, but I could.
Me: Why don’t you tell me about your latest book?
Nalo: You want me to summarize one of my plots, don’t you? (Laugh) Ok,
you have a 53 year old woman living in the Caribbean in an archipelago that
doesn’t exist, because plausible deniability is good when you come from
the Caribbean. She was christened Chastity as a girl, when she was ten her mother
went out to sea and never came back. When she was 15, she got pregnant by her
friend Michael because she was trying to help him figure out if he was gay or
not. Her father was so angry by this that Chastity moved out to the big island,
the main island, and raised her child out there. And even though Michael wanted
to co-parent she pushed him away. At some point she looked over her life and
decided she needed a name that more reflected her life and re-has renamed herself
Calamity. So when the novel opens she’s fifty three and at her father’s
funeral. When she was a child she could find things but she suppressed that
power when her other went missing, she was afraid of what she would find. But
now as she’s approaching menopause, all these years of accumulated suppression come bubbling to the surface. So every time she has a hot flash, something from her past literally materializes in front of her. Plus there’s the little boy on the beach and the monk seals (Laughter)
Me: I hear good writers are always trying something new with their novels. What
were you trying with this novel?
Nalo: I was trying to write something with a more conventional plot than the
Me: So you failed miserably?
Nalo: (Sticking her tongue out at me) Not according to Gary Wolf. I was trying to do that and I was also being spurred on by the whole Black men on the down low thing which gets on my last hairy nerve. It just feels like a media ploy to keep black women pissed off and scared of black men and I’m tired of it. So I don’t know how effectively I wrote to that because writing a
message novel is very rarely a good idea but it was definitely on the forefront
of my mind.
Me: A lot of your work has to do with sex, sexuality, and gender. I’m
thinking of the Salt Roads in particular. What’s the reason behind that?
Nalo: Blame Chip Delany. I don’t know the reason behind it. Sex is fun to write. With science fiction and fantasy you can actually take things beyond where people want you to go and sex is a good place to do that.
Me: In the latest novel there’s a lot of time spent of menopause, which
isn’t a popular topic amongst sci-fi/fantasy writers. Are you afraid of
the books reception?
Nalo: It never occurred to me to be afraid. Fantasy readership is aging. And I was thinking about the phenomenon of the poltergeist which is not a ghost but the suppressed sexuality of a girl going into adulthood. I thought if there’s magic that happens at that end then we need magic at the other end too. Because menopause bloody well needs some magic. I don’t see why not menopause. So much of the idea of power, especially for women, is linked to menstrual cycles. But I don’t believe that women lose their power after those stop, so I
played with it.
Me: This book tour is not just your work but a tribute to Octavia Butler. You
want to talk a little about that?
Nalo: Octavia, E. Butler, as far as we know, the first black woman science fiction
writer. She was not much older than me. 58, I believe, when she fell outside
her home February 8, 2006, and died. She’s left a lot of people grief
stricken and missing her. And when I spoke to my editor, the day after Octavia
past, was when my editor said that they were intending to send us both out on
tour together. This is a way of sort of…knowing that she’s going
to be on the tour with me anyway…This is a chance for people to have a
little bit of her, to invoke her presence by having people come and read a bit
of her work.
Me: What's your favorite Octavia
Nalo: You mean something she wrote or something
Me: Something she did.
Nalo: I was once with her at a convention in France and the last day of the
convention in the last panel the topic was “Whose future?” And there
were about nine of us on the panel. And we were all trying to figure out what
we were going to say. This is a convention that happens in multiple languages
with simultaneous translations. It’s just a huge thing. When we go to
the panel, we found that the moderator had been switched. The woman that was
supposed to have been moderating wanted to talk about women and the future.
She had to leave and she handed it over to a man who thought the panel was how
astonishing it was that everyone on the panel was a woman . (Laughter) And as
we were passing microphones back and forth as we tried to get through this,
I saw Octavia reach for the mic a few times then pull back at the last second.
She leaned over to me and whispered. “No No No, mother always said if
I can’t say anything good I shouldn’t say anything at all.”
And then one of the local writers in the audience stood up and said “You
know the wonderful thing about having women in the field is that men write about
the big things and the women write about small things.” And Octavia said
“Give me that microphone.” I’m sure she said it in a more
polite way but that was the effect. And then she proceeded to very gently, tell
him what it was like. She never tore him a new asshole because she wasn’t
like that. That man did not realize his guts were being served to him on a platter.
She simply made her point and the panel went on. But I clearly remember that
“Give me that microphone” moment. (Laughter).
Me: For people that don’t know her, why should someone read Octavia Butler?
Nalo: Because she was seemed to have no fear looking last the present day. Sci-fi isn’t the future, it’s a funhouse mirror on the present where you can focus on one thing or another. She was one of the people who did cautionary writing, the sort of “If this goes on.” And she was so good at it.
She talks about power, she talks about race, hybridity, even when she isn’t
specifically talking about races on this earth, she talks about the problem
of people having power over each other. She talks about how, as a species, we
like those on top, we always like to dominate each other and how that could
be out undoing. The cool thing is that when I first read her work I thought
of it as harsh. But now when I go back I see the humor, she had a sort of sly
humor, I see the humanity I see the hope. Reading those books is like visiting
with an old friend. So many people from so many different backgrounds have had
a similar response to her work. It’s worth reading just to figure out
what that is all about.
Me: What’s next for you?
Nalo: Get through the tour without such a bad Fibromyalgia flare that I can’t
get out of bed.
Me: where are you next?
Nalo: D.C. ,Baltimore, then New York, and finally
Ft. Lauderdale. Then I have to finish a novel by Nov. 15
Me: Any advice for Afrogeeks?
Or sci-fi people in general?
Nalo: Don’t limit yourself. Don’t assume
you have to look for a publisher who is black. Don’t assume no one will
understand your work. Don’t put up the barriers yourself because then