Seattle Wrote June 2016

Seattle Wrote June 2016

The way of a writer is never easy, but Seattle Author Antonio J. Hopson has 'learned the hard way' more times than one!

AJ was bitten by the writer's bug in high school, after he had written a play and received a scholarship for his work. "It was the first time I felt the power of getting my imagination out there," he said. Throughout his studies at the University of Washington for his degree in science, he kept writing, primarily short stories. 

Seattle Wrote 2016 By Norelle Done

Perhaps in an attempt to attract more eyes, or maybe just to do something different, Antonio submitted his first short story manuscript with the text in all-capital letters. "I learned the hard way that wasn't the way to put your manuscript out there," he said. "I got a very nice, handwritten rejection letter from a magazine... they liked what I was doing and had some helpful feedback."

Although that magazine never published his work, their tips helped him fine-tune his process, and he started getting his short stories published in other magazines and journals. "It helped me take it a little more seriously," he said.

Eventually, Antonio wanted to have a career as a novelist, so he spent a lot of his earlier days writing short stories (and some poetry) to 'train' himself on character development and making his narrative interesting. When he wrote his first novel, it was rejected first, because it didn't end traditionally for a romance. After the second round of rejections, AJ decided to put it on a shelf. "What I was writing was a combination of weird, imaginative, speculative fiction," he says. "It didn't fit in the traditional model. My science background had ruined a lot of the magic in the world, and through fiction, I was looking for that mysticism... It didn't fit in the commercial space."

A collection of his short stories, The Vernal Equinox of Death and Kisses and other Short Stories was published originally in 2005, and has had two more editions printed. In 2013, he published Ogden Messiah. "I like writing for the off-beat, quirky audience. If I'm not writing like that, it's like a job. Why would anyone want to read it if I don't enjoy writing it?" Antonio said. "My process is always changing, which is why I've never been bored with writing. It's easier to persevere if it's something new and different."

He began to see some success with his poetry, and his first book of poetry, Seven, was published in May 2015. It did better in book sales than his publisher had expected, and so she asked if he had anything else. Antonio shared the manuscript for his novel, which he had shelved, and the publisher decided to take on the project.

Global Warming: A Love Story will be released in July. "It includes science without being too science-y. It is playful, flirty, with great dialog and fun characters," he says of the novel. "It's two nerds falling in love in a climate change class."

He wrote the book in first-person, which was incredibly challenging, as he learned the hard way! "I will never, ever write a first-person perspective book ever again. I pulled it off, but I was more dead than alive," Antonio said.

Now that it's out there, Antonio is facing the challenge of marketing his book and connecting with his audience over social media. "I miss the part of the process where you're doing all of the creating. Unpublished authors shouldn't take that time for granted. Enjoy that golden time."

Antonio is currently working on a novel about a sailboat racing team, which is titled Nefarious. He hopes to follow a more traditional model of publishing this time around.

To aspiring authors, AJ promotes dedication and hard work. "Writing is hard on purpose. It's an art. When people say to stick to it, that should be obvious. You might not have any idea if you're up for it. It takes time, and you'd better love it... If you don't love it, you're not going to stick around and there's way more productive things to do," he says. "Writing is the loneliest job ever. I have to go out and live stuff, and then come in and write... Of course, the payoff is amazing! The connection with people and sharing a story makes you feel a little less lonely as an author. [Writers and readers] -- we need each other."

Posted 28th June by Norelle Done

Author Taps into South End Heritage To Explore Life's Gritty Nature.

By Mary Sanford District Journal Pacific Publishing Company


Novelist Antonio (AJ) Hopson grew up in Southeast Seattle, his current home. Hopson is also a biology teacher at Lakeside School.  Photo: BRADLEY ENGHAUS.

Novelist Antonio (AJ) Hopson grew up in Southeast Seattle, his current home. Hopson is also a biology teacher at Lakeside School.  Photo: BRADLEY ENGHAUS.

Ask Antonio Hopson, writer, dad, and seventh-grade science teacher about the impact of the South End on his work, and you'll get an earful. The genial 37-year-old with expressive green eyes, laughs heartily, and often.

He also pauses in mid sentence and reflects. When he speaks, he is deliberate.To meet Antonio Hopson is to meet someone who capitalized on the richness of the south end, his family's supportiveness, and his education at Cleveland High School to create an amazing life for himself and his young family. One of four children of a single mother, Hopson grew up in the Rainier Beach, Beacon Hill, and Columbia City neighborhoods. As an active father of two little boys, Hopson resides in Rainier Beach [with his two children, Jackson and Sebi]. While Hopson makes his living as a Seventh grade biology teacher at the Lakeside School, he is also known as a novelist and actually serves on the levy oversight committee associated with Seattle Public Schools, as well as serving on various community boards.

I recently caught up with him to learn about his latest writing project and the impact of the South End on this work and his teaching."The South End gave me the most amazing gifts, especially with the diversity. I am an African-American. My mom was a single mom and while I am light skinned, I was 100 percent raised as a black male." However, as a child growing up in S.E. Seattle, he sometimes felt unaccepted by other African Americans. "I didn't have a swag, I didn't use Afrocentric dialogue. I was a nerdy black male asking questions about space, a guy who played chess and soccer, hardly accepted by my peers." With this disclosure, he lets out a full belly laugh and pauses, pondering.

Hopson continued. "At Cleveland (high school) everyone mixed together and the diversity there was amazing. I learned about Humbow, the different types of Asian Americans, the different cultures of Africa. Everything was all mixed up. The experience was incredible." Hopson took lots of broadcast courses in high school. But it was the work of Mr. Smith, a biology teacher, that really captured his attention. "Mr. Smith took us to the Green River to milt salmon and I was hooked! Then we had salmon for lunch and I had to learn more. I loved science and couldn't get enough of it.

"After a stint at North Seattle Community College, he transferred to the University of Washington where he earned a bachelor's degree in environmental interpretation.Hopson began teaching at the Perkins School, a small private school located in the Maple Leaf neighborhood of Seattle. While he loved teaching and the kids, he struggled financially to survive on a beginning teacher's salary.

"It got to the point where I couldn't even afford to buy my friends a pitcher of beer", he said with a wry smile, then looked away, remembering. He was going to quit and work in a friend's toy factory when an offer came to teach at Zion Prep, another private school with a 95 percent African American population.

After three years there he was courted by Nancy Canino, the head of Lakeside's science department, to teach Seventh grade science. He's been there for the past five years and the contrast culturally between the various schools is striking. "Lakeside is an amazing place. They have resources, small class sizes, and absolutely focused faculty members who are 100 percent committed to making kids succeed which doesn't always happen in other places such as public schools. At Cleveland it seems they taught to the middle of the class and the advanced and academically challenged students got left behind. Here that doesn't happen.

I also see a huge difference culturally because the populations are different. "Hopson continues. "At Zion Prep, the communication style is different because teachers were teaching to the African American culture. For example, in the African American culture you would say to a child at home, " Get your black ass in the tub." It's very direct and clear and the child understands. At Lakeside, the teacher might say, 'I'd like you to come in after school. '

At Zion, the student didn't have a choice. They would do as that teacher directed. At Lakeside , it's a different way of communicating.""The irony to me now, as a Lakeside faculty member, is that I competed against it as a Cleveland Chess club member. I'm aware of the extreme differences between the two places. But I love teaching. Every day is different. [] It means something, it's going somewhere. I feel like I model myself after the great teachers I had.

Teaching gives me a way to do something about the sickness in society. What it's really all about is taking care of one another. "Antonio Hopson, the writer. But teaching isn't all this talented individual is about. Hopson is, at heart, a writer. Growing up in S.E. Seattle, Hopson said the experience and the area's richness made him hopeful. "It gave me hope but you know, it made me a realist as well. It's gritty here and I want to dignify the people in my stories despite that grittiness."

His writing career began in the Fourth grade when he wrote a play in the form of a political satire about Jimmy Carter and his brother." Mr. Hollingshead, my teacher, told me 'Good job!" and I got lots of attention for it. That was cool. At night I would tell stories to my little brothers and torture them. The stories would be all about the people they loved but these people would get into trouble!" With that, Hopson smiled the grin of a teasing big brother, tantalized by the memories.His next effort at writing was in high school where his play, "Walking on a Thin Line," was performed by the drama department." Charlie Royer, the mayor of Seattle at the time, came to see it and created the "Walking on a Thin Line" proclamation for the city, and again I got lots of attention.

Unfortunately when I look back at that writing I can't help but grimace it was so bad!" He howls with laughter at the memory. After this he started experimenting with novel writing, even going so far as to send a novel out to an editor written in all capital letters, a definite faux pas. His shift into fiction happened after he spent time living in a converted tool shed at a friend's place in West Seattle." I spent a lot of time alone there. I focused more on narrative writing and became less concerned about getting attention for my writing."The experience yielded a treasure trove of richness. In January 2005 he published his first collection of short stories: "The Vernal Equinox of Death and Kisses and Other Short Stories." One such story is titled "Do Bikers Believe in Fairy Tales?" To research this story he hung out in the scariest hick bar in New Mexico."Scary! It was awful. I had to dare myself to even go in - broken windows, in the middle of nowhere. But I did it, I went in, I country danced and hung out with the bikers! I want to be an active learner and to do research for my stories. I want to give the people in my stories a dignity and to show the beauty of these people. I tend to be obsessed with the south end and its richness. My goal is to show the magic in all stories, to create a world not

yet explained." Recently Hopson finished writing his second novel, "Ogden Messiah," an experience that led him to an amazing discovery."Up until now I had been writing for a white protagonist. I figured that no one would believe that these adventures in my story could happen to a black man, but they did. But now in my book, 'Ogden Messiah,' the protagonist is Black." He smiles, satisfied with this decision.Hopson continues. "You know, there's magic in the mixture down here (in S.E. Seattle). There's magic between science and metacognition. What really inspires me is to try to walk the line between the two different extremes in the world - the stuff that's measurable and the things that can never be measured. It seems we're constantly trying to sort out where the things belong between the two extremes. That's magical and mystical. To me, the sorting and the measuring is the most titillating part of being alive, in teaching, in loving my wife, in writing, in hanging out with my kids."Hopson's next work will explore the horrific experiences of Chinese immigrants smuggled into the United States in container ships, the risks and desires they have, and their stories.

Mary Sanford may be reached at