Books·My Life in Books

The books and writers that changed Nalo Hopkinson's life

The author of Brown Girl in the Ring talks about her favourite authors and literary works.
Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian speculative fiction writer and editor. (Tania Anderson/Submitted by Nalo Hopkinson)

Nalo Hopkinson is a Canadian science fiction writer, editor and creative writing professor. Hopkinson's debut 1998 novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, weaves in fantastical, folklore and science fiction elements and set the stage for her award-winnning career as an author within the genre. 

Here are the books that have shaped Hopkinson's life and work.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor. (Wikimedia Commons/Modern Library)

"My father was a Shakespearean-trained actor, so I got to see a lot of the plays performed. This meant they made much more sense to me when I read them. And Shakespeare, of course, has a fair number of fantastical elements in his work."

Shattered Like A Glass Goblin by Harlan Ellison

Harlan Jay Ellison is an American writer. (Twitter)

"I read works that were fantastical because my brain is skewed that way. I could figure out life — because I was having one — so I wanted something that was outside the ordinary. Not to say that regular fiction can't be outside the ordinary, but I wanted folklore, futuristic stories and magical stuff. So that's what I always looked for."

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel Ray Delany Jr. is an author, professor and literary critic. (Vintage/Getty)

"Delany's approach to writing is what many define as postmodern today. He broke science fiction and opened up the idea of what was possible. Dhalgren was a very experimental novel in many ways. He had characters of colour at the centre. Eventually, at some point, I realized he was Black and that was wonderful — to see that there were other people like me in the genre."

Alice B. Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.

Alice Bradley Sheldon was an American science fiction author better known as James Tiptree Jr. (

"I was a voracious reader in the past. I was reading a host of feminist writers, particularly Alice B. Sheldon, known by the pen name of James Tiptree Jr. Her analysis of male-female relationships in science fiction had a big effect on me."

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Nora K. Jemisin is an American speculative fiction writer. (Orbit/Laura Hanifin)

"This book is part of a series, all of which have been optioned for television. I can read one of her sentences and I will have to sit down and think about it, take a break and think about it some more because the observations she's making  strike me so strongly."

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American writer of fantasy and science fiction for both children and adults. (

"This science fiction novella is about a young woman from a particular African community who gets accepted into university off-world and is the one who makes a meaningful first contact with a race that is trying to cure humans. It's a short read. My students — who are mostly people of colour — love it. They love seeing things that feel real to them, but still have that that fantastical feel."

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was an American novelist. (Penguin Classics/Marian Wood Kolisch/

"This novel is set on a planet where people switch genders, depending on who they are close to at any given time. Le Guin was one of the earliest explorers of gender in science fiction. There's something meditative about her writing. I remember reading this book and weeping at the simplest sentence. It was about a character telling children something about life in the stars, something simple. It encapsulated all of the adventure, pain, loss and beauty that had gone before in the novel and just sort of brought it home."

Stephen King and Samuel R. Delaney's books on writing

Samuel R. Delany and Stephen King's books on creative writing are geared for both new and experienced writers.

"With these two books, you get two very different takes on writing. I think together they work very well. Emerging science fiction writers should read these, and also they should read as much in the genre as they can. This includes all the good stuff, the bad stuff and the mediocre stuff — read it all, in order to internalize the models for good writing."


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