This week SFWA announced the newest Grand Master. This is a lifetime achievement award given to a speculative fiction writer for contributions to the field.
Grand Masters are generally considered the best of the best, but this is not always a great understanding of the award and how Grand Masters are chosen.
And, of course, Nalo Hopkinson is Afro-Caribbean (Jamaican to be precise). So far I’ve only had to deal with one person in my presence calling her elevation “woke.”
So, who is Nalo Hopkinson — and why does she absolutely deserve this award?
Brown Girl in the Ring
Brown Girl in the Ring is a traditional children’s song from the Caribbean.
It’s also Hopkinson’s brilliant first novel, based on Afro-Caribbean folklore but set in her beloved Toronto, where she moved at the age of 16. The book is known for its excellent portrayal of the city.
Since then, Hopkinson has written five other novels and three collections; this is a remarkably small output for a Grand Master and is being used as ammunition by the racists who would deny her her place.
No, she’s not the fastest writer in the world, but every single one of her books has been well received and acknowledged as brilliant.
But it might be understandable to question things given Hopkinson has written fewer books than 2019 Grand Master Lois McMaster Bujold has won Hugos.
That would be a profound misunderstanding of the award itself and more importantly of why Nalo Hopkinson has been chosen.
It’s Not All About the Books
The Damon Knight Grand Master award is for “contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy.”
It is not for “writing the best science fiction and fantasy books,” although that’s certainly a component. And it is absolutely not for “writing the most science fiction and fantasy books.”
Some past Grand Masters have been truly prolific. Others less so.
But contributions to the literature goes beyond writing books. And that is what people often profoundly misunderstand.
Nalo Hopkinson’s Contributions
So, what else has Nalo Hopkinson done?
She’s also an adept editor, having edited five anthologies and guest edited an issue of Lightspeed Magazine.
So, is that it?
No…that’s not it either.
SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal is quoted on the SFWA site and I’ll requote her here:
“Naming Nalo as Grand Master recognizes not only her phenomenal writing but also her work as an educator who has shaped so many of the rising stars of modern SFF.”
I’m not on the Grand Master committee and I don’t know the deep grounds for their decision, but there it is in Kowal’s words.
“her work as an educator.”
Hopkinson is not a Grand Master just because she wrote a few excellent books. Plenty of authors have done that.
She is a Grand Master because she has had a profound impact on “the literature of science fiction and fantasy” by teaching other writers.
She has taught at Clarion for years and been a professor of creative writing (at the University of California, Riverside) since 2013.
She has also had a very strong influence on Caribbean science fiction. But her greatest contribution to the field is as a teacher.
And we need more of those.
Anyone who says Hopkinson does not deserve the title is misunderstanding the award. They are also very likely to be, well. Racist.
It’s certainly racist to imply that she’s some kind of diversity hire.
Oh, and here’s another reason to shut up: Per her own website, Nalo Hopkinson has fibromyalgia, something which doesn’t generally help when it comes to writing fast.
So let’s acknowledge and honor this woman’s achievements, envy her students, and shut down anyone who says she doesn’t deserve it.