Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who's Eligible to Write What?

Roger Sutton has an excellent, thought-provoking post at Read Roger that ends with his commenting that:
"But let me just add: after a year in which two of the biggest buzzed books, Kingdom on the Waves and Chains, were by white people writing in the voice of African Americans, let me just say that EA is NUTS to think white writers are excluded from publishing about blacks by virtue of their exclusion from the CSK."

Many of the comments argue that it is unreasonable for white writers to greedily want recognition for writing in the voice of African Americans, prompting me to comment the following (I include it here since my blog is young, and the people who might be just finding me might not see my comment at Roger's blog):
"The whole concept of who is eligible to write about what has always troubled me. I am a woman, yet I write mostly books about boys. Should I be ineligible to do so because of my gender? Somehow the boys I write for don't seem to object.

"I wrote a book set in El Salvador, A Bear for Miguel. My editor loved it, but she said she knew she was going to have trouble getting it through acquisitions because of authenticity. How could I as a white American (she had met me in person), be expected to be able to write about El Salvador? I mentioned that my father had come to America from El Salvador. She relaxed visibly and assured me that, in that case, it would be no problem. Yet I have never been to El Salvador myself. Did my father's experience make my book more authentic?

"I believe that an important part of the writer's job is to put herself (or himself) into another person's or character's soul. If we do our job well, it should not be an issue of how authentic we are in terms of sharing the same ethnic heritage, gender, or religion. The sole issue should be how compelling and believable that character is, and whether the reader accepts that character as being truthful in his or her thinking and behavior.

"I am finishing work on a nonfiction book about a Jewish man on trial for murder in 1913 Georgia, An Unspeakable Crime. I am not Jewish, I am not a man, and I've only been to Georgia twice, but I do not think this makes me unfit for the job of writing this book, nor should it make the book ineligible for attention from Jewish, male or Georgia readers. Oh, wait - my mother was born in Georgia. Perhaps An Unspeakable Crime will be considered authentic thanks to her."

1 comment:

  1. Hi! My friend and I are doing a Media Festival project and we are doing it on the different novels. We read in our class and one of them is Ghost cadet. So we want permission to use your picture from your website. The reason we ask this is because we are having a short little summary about the author. so if you can please email us at

    We are in 5th grade at Frank Long Elementary.

    Thanks! Alex and Savannah