This interview with Annalee Newitz was part of my research for “Are You Afraid of the Darkness: A Guide to Hopepunk,” a feature written for Den of Geek’s New York Comic Con print magazine that delved into the hopepunk term. I recommend beginning with that article before diving into this full interview transcript.
To hear more of Newitz’s thoughts on hopepunk, check out the hopepunk-themed episode of their Hugo-winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct, which they host with Charlie Jane Anders.
Den of Geek: Do you consider hopepunk a genre or something else?
Annalee Newitz: It’s definitely not a genre, because any kind of story can have elements of hopepunk. I think of it as a reason to tell stories, a motivation, or maybe a narrative tone. The idea is to tell a story where there are hopeful elements, or maybe a hopeful resolution to the characters’ struggles. I don’t mean to suggest it’s all about having a happy ending, because you can have a pretty ambivalent, broody ending that still conveys hope. Hopepunk is really about showing readers that we can make it through even the most difficult situations. Even if your hero dies, hopepunk suggests that someone else will be there to take up her torch and carry on.
Are there narrative elements that a work must contain to be considered hopepunk? Are there elements that a story must not contain if it aspires to be hopepunk?
I think hopepunk is the opposite of apathy. In so many stories these days, characters are (literally or metaphorically) lighting cigarettes and enjoying the end of the world. They may look cool doing it, but it’s profoundly anti-social and toxic. As soon as your characters don’t give a shit about anything, you’re leaving hopepunk behind.
Do you think of hopepunk as a reactive idea? Does it have to be in relation to grimdark/noblebright or is it something bigger than that?
I think it’s a reaction against the overwhelmingly nihilistic, dystopian slant to a lot of stories in the world right now. And it’s not just in fiction. I’ve been disgusted with the new hot takes we’re seeing about how climate change is inevitable and so therefore we should just go watch Netflix and move away from the coasts. There are two pathways out of huge problems like climate change or political instability. We can retreat into paralysis, and pretend that’s somehow pragmatic or realistic. Or we can say, fine, this is a horrible problem, let’s get together with other people and try to solve any small part of it that we can. Those are the two pathways we can take through a narrative, too. We can tell stories about people who try to fix things, rather than rejoicing in their splendid destruction. It’s a way of showing other people that just because things aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean they can’t be better.
Are there genres or parts of the entertainment industry where hopepunk is more likely to show up?
The thing about hope is that–at least right now–it generally feels counter-intuitive. So I think it tends to show up in genres where we’ve already suspended our disbelief. Science fiction and romance are perfect for hopepunk, but so are dramas like the movie Hidden Figures about people who manage to solve problems despite considerable setbacks.
Why do you think there is a need for an idea like hopepunk right now (if you think there is)? Do you think culture is becoming more or less hopepunk?
We deeply need hope right now, because we’re in a very precarious, self-destructive historical moment. I think of hopepunk as narrative therapy for historical trauma–it’s a way to ease pain, to tell stories about the healing process as well as what has hurt us.
Do you consider any of your own work hopepunk?
Yes, and especially because I don’t believe in easy answers or perfect fixes for anything. My work is very self-consciously hopeful, but I never fool the reader into thinking that everything is going to be OK. It’s going to be a little better for some people for a short time, but we will always have to keep working our asses off to fend off the forces of nihilism and oppression. We must remain vigilant! But we also need to fall in love, and have parties, and make art too. That’s the hopeful part.