Author Archives: senojyma
Nalo Hopkinson’s first novel, Brown Girl in The Ring (1998), a novel published by Warner Aspect, is 256 pages of twists and turns filled with Afro-Caribbean culture that brings folklore and magical realism to life. Her enthralling story was selected as the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest, and accelerated her career as a feminist science fiction author. Since the selection, Hopkinson’s novel has received critical acclaim in the form of a Locus Award for Best First Novel and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1999, as well as approval from renowned author Octavia Butler. Hopkinson is of Jamaican descent and she grew up in Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, the United States, and Canada.
The setting of Brown Girl in The Ring is not utopian in nature. Riots of the past have caused the inner city of Toronto to collapse into a slum of poverty, homelessness, and violence. While the elite and city officials have fled to the suburbs, children are left to fend for themselves and survive on the streets that are ruled by Rudy Sheldon and his posse of criminal thugs. Disappearances and murder are not uncommon, and everyone is left to either fend for themselves or band together to provide support for each other.
Hopkinson then introduces the heroine of the story, and a very different perspective of life in the outskirt of the city is seen. Ti-Jeanne, the granddaughter of Gros-Jeanne, is struggling with very different problems than street survival. Having recently given birth to a baby boy, Ti-Jeanne has moved back in with her grandmother to care for her child as a single mother because the child’s father, Tony, suffers from addiction and is a member of the posse. While she loves her Mami, she has difficulty seeing the importance of her grandmother’s spiritualism and medicinal work, and is frightened by her visions of death. Gros-Jeanne has gone to great lengths in the past to share her culture with her family, but has continuously been pushed away by her daughter and granddaughter.
Paths begin to cross when Tony is called upon by Rudy. Hopes of leaving his criminal life behind and reconnecting with his love, Ti-Jeanne, are shattered due to the threats from the posse leader looming over him. Tony must perform a horrific act of murder to obtain a heart to save the life of one of the city’s elite. The situation only gets worse when he involves his relationship with Ti- and Gros-Jeanne.
The magic comes alive for the rest of the novel when Tony seeks help from the spiritualism of Gros-Jeanne. In attempts to save Tony, Ti-Jeanne performs the rituals alongside her Mami and accepts her father spirit. When plans go awry, Tony makes a rash decision that forces Ti-Jeanne to be the one to save herself and the city from Rudy’s evil spiritual acts.
Ti-Jeanne’s personal growth throughout the novel is evident in her attitude toward her elders, culture, and outlook on life. Through acceptance of her ancestry and culture, she finds power and support to overcome steep odds and end the horrific violence of the posse and their heinous leader, despite her personal connection to the man who took her mother away from her at a young age. The story closes with hope, Ti-Jeanne’s victory is monumental, and the stolen heart possesses the power to permanently change the city of Toronto for the better.
The power of women of color feminism and the use of magic, “Obeah,” or seer women, are major themes throughout this novel. Nalo Hopkinson has done a marvelous job of presenting strong female characters who take control of their fate to make change in the world. Her novel is a work of feminist science fiction because it shows a very realistic perception of the struggles women face as single mothers as well as the struggles women with different cultural beliefs face in society. However, it shows their ability to use their culture, background, and experiences as women to overcome obstacles and show the true strength women possess. In addition, themes of community and systemic economic disadvantage run throughout the scenes with the street children. The compassion and heartache written in those scenes reminds readers that there is strength when we band together for a common goal and to put less focus on obtaining material items to achieve happiness and genuine relationships.
This book is well-written and exciting to read, and I recommend it especially to those who want to experience science fiction through the lens of a different culture. On a personal note, I found the novel to be difficult to read at times due to the Caribbean dialect and use of phonetic spelling when the characters were speaking out loud to one another. My initial frustration though was eased once the characters were more developed and I could see how the conversations and word choices illuminated the type of relationship held between characters. Other than the conversational prose, I found the book to be easy to read and enlightening on folklore of other cultures I was unfamiliar with. The book is unique compared to other works of feminist science fiction, because it draws on the ancestry of a different past and opens up perspectives that have yet to be shared in the science fiction community.
I have to admit, I have never watched the show, but I might after seeing this clip!
Thought it was a fitting post after today’s panel!
Recently, I have become absorbed with your correspondence with Cheris Kramarae. What started out as a business relationship quickly developed into a friendship that went beyond mere communication about the writing profession.
In your letters, the emotion pours out and you seem broken down by the system that was set into place at your university. You describe yourself as disabled and you desperately try to prevent another female writer and professor from experiencing the same painful memories of your past. Now, at age 76, over 30 years after the letters were written, have you found peace? Have you been able to find ways to overcome the physical pain of your disability and emotional pain from your experiences in academia to continue to teach and influence the world despite being in a classroom?
In your letters, you speak of defeat, and yet your books demonstrate changes in language that give women power and create inclusive communities. Did your defeat come from the delayed acceptance of your ideas? Or perhaps you simply have regrets from your time in academia, and if this is the case, what advice would you give to young professors or students to ensure their success and emotional well-being? Finally, do you feel that at this moment in time have we as women have gotten back our stolen language?
Outside of the correspondence, I am curious to know as a linguist what you think the definition of feminism is and how language has helped that definition evolve over time. I am very interested in also knowing how far you think the world has come in regards to inclusive language, and how much farther we still have to go.
Thank you for your work and inspiration for future generations.
The feminists studied in class have each created science fiction stories that are carefully constructed with language chosen with specific intent. I believe that through their writing and correspondence with one another, the authors created a theory for ideal language.
I would like to examine and compile this theory and then analyze it in comparison to how language is used today at the University of Oregon. I would like to look at specific questions such as: What would the university look like if sexist and gender specific language was eliminated from our vocabularies? How would the environment created by the language theory shape the college experience and what would relationships between students, faculty, and community members look like?
In order to explore this utopia, I would first like to summarize the theory found throughout the written works and correspondence between the feminist authors discussed in class, including but not limited to Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, Suzette Haden Elgin, Ursula Le Guin, Casey Miller and Kate Swift, using a traditional essay format. Then, in an attempt to thoroughly explore my questions and the scope of this class, I would like to take the knowledge gained and apply it to our own university in a science fiction short story.
While the traditional essay provides the opportunity to address and specify the forward thinking thoughts and language choice used by the authors, the short story would allow me to demonstrate where our campus is today and what would need to change before their ideas from the past have been truly accepted by the public and university community. This short story would begin in today’s time and then transition into the future in order to compare and contrast the appearance, experiences, people, and problems faced in both time frames at the University of Oregon.
I hope to not only draw from the primary sources in the special collections, but also reach out to students across campus to hear their experiences and better understand the problems and barriers they face due to language. This additional source will also allow me to picture the changes that would need to take place at the University of Oregon to be able to construct the ideal college community.
In addition, I plan to explore the works of Suzette Haden Elgin to learn more about how language is used in many different aspects of life. At this point, I have been unable to find correspondence between her and other authors to see if they communicated any of the ideas that appeared in her published works. However, I hope to find some letters to see if her ideas were inspired by the previous works by other feminist authors prior to the publication of Native Tongue. The books by Elgin I plan to use include Native Tongue, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense, Gender Speak, and her various books dealing with language in professional environments. Other sources I will utilize include Miller and Swift’s The handbook of nonsexist writing and Paula Treichler and Ann Russo’ ‘Ceris Kramarae’s A Feminist Dictionary.
[Correspondence from Marge Piercy], Joanna Russ Papers, [Coll 261, Box 8, Folders 42-47], Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.
Elgin, Suzette H. Genderspeak : men, women, and the gentle art of verbal self-defense. New York: J. Wiley, 1993. Print.
Elgin, Suzette H. Native tongue. New York: DAW Books, 1984. Print.
Elgin, Suzette H. The gentle art of verbal self-defense at work. Paramus, N.J: Prentice Hall Press, 2000. Print.
Joanna Russ Papers, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Or.
Kramarae, Cheris, and Paula A. Treichler. A feminist dictionary. London Boston: Pandora Press, 1985. Print.
Miller, Casey, and Kate Swift. The handbook of nonsexist writing. Lincoln, NE: IUniverse.com, Inc, 2001. Print.
Ursula Le Guin Papers, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Or.