Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Should We Write Across Cultures?

Here's a great mission statement:
Imagine. Envision. Write. Revise. Submit. YARN publishes outstanding original short fiction, poetry, and essays for Young Adult readers, written by the writers you know and love, as well as fresh new voices ... including teens.
That's the purpose of Young Adult Review Network, also known as YARN. The site editors recently asked me to contribute an original short story and also posed three interesting questions during a brief Q and A. Here's one of them, along with my answer:

YARN: What advice might you give young people who are considering writing across the lines of culture?

MP: If you’re an “outsider” to the culture, do your homework. Listen, do research, love someone deeply who belongs to that culture. Let it be read by people of a different class and/or culture than yours and receive their critique. Consider whether the story wouldn’t be better served if written by an “insider,” and have the grace to let it go. Or to wait on it.

The other part of the equation is power. If you’re perceived as a powerful outsider thanks to race and/or class and/or gender, your story is going to be told and heard differently. Are you going to commandeer space on the shelves and displace a story that could be told by a less powerful “insider"? Or is there room in the global library both for your version and hers?

On the other hand, I don’t believe in setting up some kind of “right-ethnic-credentials” apartheid in stories. Who gets to decide who writes for whom, anyway? We’re all essentially outsiders when we write fiction, right? Otherwise, we’d be writing memoir. Let’s represent lots of races and cultures in our stories as the setting and plot demand.

Bottom line—cross cultures boldly, but humbly.


YARN also asked two other thoughtful questions:
  1. How do you point out the importance of quiet reflective time for young aspiring writers to whom being alone is almost a foreign concept?

  2. How do you encourage young people to ignore the faces on the book covers and the television screen long enough to believe that the stories they have to tell are valid and important?
If you're interested, you may go there and scroll down past my short story to read my answers. And leave a comment on their site, would you? Because here's the rest of YARN's mission statement:
We also believe in feedback, which is why we encourage readers to post comments on pieces that inspire thought, emotion, laughter ... or whatever.

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