Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Can Anyone Write About Anything?

(image from friend's recent trip to Morocco)
So besides the Starbuck's conversation about long distance dating last night, as listed in the entry below, the other thing my friends and I were discussing was this: cultural appropriation and the idea of anyone writing about people who are not like them in novels.

It's an age-old discussion in many writers circles... the idea of someone of one ethnic background authentically writing a novel about someone of another ethnicity... the idea of a man writing authentically about the experience of women in a novel... and so on, and so forth.

I get asked the question a lot while doing book events. Many of my characters reflect the ethnic and sexual orientation diversity of Los Angeles, primarily black and brown and gay and bi and straight, and people are curious about that writing process. They want to know if it's research, just being authentically interested in learning about people, interviewing people, etc...

Of course any writer CAN. But SHOULD they... is another discussion. I think if writers are genuinely interested in reflecting people in culturally appropriate and responsible ways, they can and should write about the diversity in our worlds. But sometimes, people don't take the culturally appropriate or responsible route in reflecting the diversity of our worlds... especially when it comes to reflecting people who are not "the majority," no matter the category, and rely on stereotypes... or what they've heard, rather than what they've actually learned.

And then again, what is authentic? appropriate? responsible? And do writers have a responsibility to reflect all the dimensions of people -- the good and the bad -- in creating realistic fiction and characters? And... how do you feel when you find out the writer of a novel is completely different, in terms of background and life experience, that the novel or book you're reading? I know it happens in non-fiction a lot. But what about fiction?
fs

4 comments:

thelastnoel said...

This IS a good topic. You know, writers can write about anything. That's what free speech is for. Free speech can go both ways. This includes clocking a writer who got something wrong--whether it's culture, geography, etc. I think of Kazuo Ishiguro who wrote "Remains of the Day." He may not be ethnically British, but he created art regardless.

David E. Patton said...

yes I think that writers need be responable for what they write and can cross many lines and pput themselves in the shoes of others.

W A T E R said...

Hey Fred. Good Post. ;-)

I didn't forget about you.

Marz said...

I think fiction books should stirve to show diversity. I hate when I read books and everyone is black, or white, or gay, or straight, or male, or female, etc, etc. etc.

If all writers were to write all the characters in only things that they know, then all books would be boring. A book by me, for instance, would only have black gay teens living in the inner city. It would be alright for that to be the main character, but every character would be repetitive.

And reflecting a culture can be different. For instance, a black gay teen who lives in the suburbs probably has a totally different style of dress, talk, music, aand whatever else. But we are still both black, male, gay, and teenagers.