A Noun By Any Other Name Is Just As Grumpy

"Everybody's into India these days," a friend says. "No wonder you're getting some books published."

It's true. There is an increased appetite for books about India. But sometimes I read the mind of a disgruntled writer wannabe: "The only reason she's published and I'm not is because she's one of those MULTICULTURAL writers."

Rant time.

You never hear someone introduced as a WHITE MALE WRITER, do you? We also never hear WOMAN WRITER these days, although a century ago we might have. "Writer," therefore, no longer implies masculinity when the noun stands alone. But I'm often introduced as an "Indian-American" writer. If I'm not in a grumpy mood, this doesn't bother me at all, but labels always make me think. If that extra adjective is needed, does the noun by itself apply only to a person of European descent?

It's like the sting of assumption after making it through a rigorous college admissions process: "YOU got in to meet a quota; you weren't as qualified as the white kids." Hey listen, I want to say, the "Indian-American" label comes before the noun WRITER. If my writing stinks, adding adjectives, no matter how important or unique, won't help at all.

Or maybe I'm being a curmudgeon again. Maybe people are introducing the part of me they find especially intriguing or unique. After all, writers are popping up everywhere these days. But how many INDIAN-AMERICAN CHILDREN'S BOOK writers do you know? (Here are a few: Uma Krishnaswami, Narinder Dhami, Kashmira Sheth, Pooja Makhijani, Anjali Banerjee, Rachna Gilmore ... for more see Kahani magazine.) So maybe I should just chill, and revel in the majority culture celebrating instead of rejecting my ethnicity.

Still, there's tension. Must my work always come with a label, like a troublesome blouse that can't be tossed into the wash with the other clothes? Perhaps writers like me did get special treatment from publishers a few years ago. But these days, there's an avalanche of new, fresh voices from non-majority communities. Every year that passes, every month that passes, more is expected from the "writer" part of our label than from any qualifying adjectives. These days, our work's getting tossed into the dirty laundry bin (a.k.a. the slush pile), along with the rest.

So, to work, writers. Let's forget any adjectives the world might place before the noun. The truth is, those qualifiers are a part of us; we can't get rid of them even if we tried. Our souls will use them to weave together a sense of place, knit the personalities of characters, embroider the details of plot. Instead, let's strengthen our grip on the vocation itself. After all, without the word "writer," we're basically a list of adjectives looking for a good noun.

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