20 legendary Black science-fiction authors you need to know

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Nalo Hopkinson

Part of encouraging more equality and greater diversity for science fiction writers involves recognizing that vast array of experiences, backgrounds, and cultures that produce writers. Black authors can draw on their own experiences from across the world, not to mention the many different cultures and societies of the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, and many, many more.

In much of her work, Nalo Hopkinson draws on the cultural context of the Caribbean, specifically her childhood home of Jamaica. She was born in the capital city of Kingston in 1960, eventually moving from there to Guyana, Trinidad, and Canada. Her mother worked in a library, while her father was a writer and actor, giving her a creative start in life. Though she had access to authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Hopkinson also found great inspiration in the folk tales like Anansi, a highly intelligent and often tricky spider god originating from West Africa.

Many of these themes are reflected in Hopkinson’s published novels, like her 1998 debut, Brown Girl in the Ring. Here, the center of Toronto has descended into a dystopian slum, while the affluent have fled to the protected suburbs. Ti-Jeanne, the young woman at the center of the novel, must move in with her grandmother Gros-Jeanne after Ti-Jeanne gives birth to her first child, a son. She must learn to reconcile with and grow to love her grandmother’s spiritual practices and their shared culture to survive. A swirl of spirits who are good, evil, and everything in between complicates things.

For a more overtly sci-fi work, read Midnight Robber. This novel, published in 2000, follows a young girl named Tan-Tan. She lives in the far future, on a planet named for the Haitian revolutionary figure Toussaint Louverture. A series of tragedies pushes Tan-Tan and her father to travel to an alternate dimension and cross paths with aliens. Tan-Tan herself must navigate her traumatic relationship with her family and find her own path.