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May 05, 2014


Maria Turtschaninoff

I am very happy to hear your thoughts on this, especially since I am such a fan of Book of a Thousand Days. I have struggled with this question myself. Whose story am I allowed to tell? Both racially speaking but also concerning gender, sexual orientation etc. And the conclusion I have come to is: We are all humans. As long as I write about each character as a fully rounded, complex human being and not a stereotype, I think I should be able to tell any and every story.


I like that the cast of Dangerous is diverse. It's easier to picture them in my head that way. So when Jacques' name shows up on the page, I think, "That's the black guy" instead of "Um...that's the guy who isn't Wilder or Luther...what does he look like again?" Same with Mi-Sun and Ruth. I do this with movies a lot. If there are two actors with the same coloring and body type I get them confused.
But sometimes, I think people get overzealous with the whole diversity thing. Awhile back, I read this short, mean spirited internet review of Austenland. It said it was "only for white straight cisgendered upper middle class women". Aside from copy and pasting the IMDB summary into the article, it didn't say much else about the movie. I feel like reviewers have a responsibility to describe the plot of a film, not just the diversity of the cast. Books and movies are for whoever happens to like them.
I like your posts. I could've used this the first time I tried writing outside my race.


Thanks for this. It's a scary thing to attempt, writing about what you only know from the outside without offending the insiders.

I'm dealing with the same issue in my current WIP and keep thinking, "How dare I write about this culture when it's not mine?" And then I think, well, duh! I dare because I love this culture, and it's under-represented, and I wish people knew more about it and respected its richness more. And I want to give people a chance to identify and empathize with a kid they would normally never have a chance to get to know. Isn't it all about creating empathy? Maybe I'll fail at capturing everything someone else closer to the culture would, but still, I'm human, and hopefully the humanity is what people see in the end...

Evelyn Coleman

As an African American writer I smiled reading your respectful commentary. I also wondered what would prompt white writers to respond to the call for more diverse books? I am a believer if you know or learn a wealth of information first hand about a culture then surely you should be able to write about it no matter who you are....I always say, "if you have rocked the babies of that culture then you should by all means feel comfortable in doing so." My pet peeve though is that most white writers that I know don't bother to learn first hand. Even though my grandmother once claimed a Native heritage doesn't mean I know anything about Native peoples...so if I were to write about Native people on a reservation, I would move on a reservation or near one first. And my character would be outside the reservation. I have long loved the culture of the Romany, so my solution was to meet some of them and teach them how to write their own stories. I am amused though that each time I hear a call for diversity in children's literature, I also see a slew of white writers feeling that some how this is a call for them to introduce diverse characters....and I say if you are a part of a culture other than your own or even if you immerse yourself in one then go for it. Otherwise, I don't really think you are being invited to add to the cannon from your own limited knowledge. In my mind the authentic way for white writers to bring diverse characters to stories is for them to live life fully in a diverse world. I don't mean you speak to other ethnic people at conferences or say hello at meetings I mean you visit their homes and get to know their families and invite them into yours to know your family. Then when I read your books and come across some information related to my African American people in my same socio-economic background I won't have to grit my teeth because I am not reading a stereotype. And as I had to explain to a writer years ago, "no your maid and her family visiting once a year does not count."


This is how I usually think: If you're uncomfortable about doing something then don't do it. Simple as that. I get bored when people drone on and one about how they want to write about non-white people, but are too scared to do it. Sit in your place then! Write what you want. Personally, it's difficult for me to sit through today's books because none of them have much to do with my cultural background. I think the notion that writers gain more by writing about stuff they usually don't write about is a bunch of bull.

No one is capable of doing it, because no one in this world knows about everything. You can research all you want, but for as long as you never had that first hand experience growing up in that culture, you will never write it well. You can write about other cultures you want, but it does not necessarily mean that you're more worldly or experienced.

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