Some stories, when you finish them, make you want to run five laps around the block. Others make you throw the book/e-device, both for good and bad reasons. And then every once in a while you come across that rare and special story that when you land on that last word and put it down all you can do is exhale and say “holy fucking shit.” Nalo Hopkinson’s Fisherman is one of those. It’s an outstanding story surrounded by other outstanding stories in her World Fantasy Award winning collection Skin Folk. Fisherman is a tale of slowly gathering tension and in just a few pages, we understand it is in fact the culminating moments of a life of slowly gathering tensions. Hopkinson gracefully inundates us with the immensity of the ocean, the reek of freshly-caught fish, the aching muscles after a long day’s work, the swirl of camaraderie and doubt of being a quiet soul in a loud room. That is to say: all the basic elements of a good short story are there – characters we care about, moving themes, sex, fear, conflict, resolution, ambiguity – but then there’s something else too: that special humanity that Hopkinson imbues her literature with. It is a thing beyond the ability of all our lit crit and analytical skills to deconstruct; it is simply good ass writing.
Nalo Hopkinson has published six novels and besides Skin Folk she edited/co-edited four anthologies including Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction and Mojo: Conjure Stories. Besides the World Fantasy Award, Hopkinson has won John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for positive exploration of queer issues in speculative fiction, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic and has been nominated for the Hugo, the Tiptree and the Nebula awards.
Hopkinson didn’t write her second novel, Midnight Robber, with a YA audience in mind, but it’s still one of my favorite young adult books of all time. This book brings stark truth to the deeper story that the movie Avatar tried and failed at telling – a tale of rising above trauma, through the complex hearbreaking layers of inter-cultural, interplanetary solidarity, and stepping into Life. And beyond that, the same unrelenting, indescribable sense of humanity is wide awake and fully at play here, and it comes with the corollary that the world is not a cute little package left under a tree. The world is in fact on fire, Midnight Robber reminds us. It is fraught with dangers, betrayals, tragic mistakes, regrets. And we know this, all of us know this, so when we read these difficult truths in a book, that book becomes more than a great story, it becomes a friend. A reminder that we are not alone.
As a writer, I’m still just a baby. But when I was a wee fetus of a writer trying to wrap my head around the complexities of power, identity, sexuality and story, Nalo Hopkinson was one of the voices that lit the way. So it is my great pleasure to introduce her to you tonight: Nalo Hopkinson.