February 05, 2006

Weekend Words

Now, how cool is this? The Redwood City's Orion School Book Fair featured 11-year olds confidently showing off their portfolios of stories and drawings to adult writers who were glad to see them. The children gained a peek into the process that creates the books they. The writers and illustrators discuss what it takes to create one. The writers talked about how hard editing was, and how bad it felt to erase things they'd written. They talked about how to get ideas, and showed flow charts, etc. When I was in the first grade, we had Author's Conventions, where we had a single writer from the community come and do that for us, and we all had tea and were awarded on the best story from our grade group, etc. The teacher who did that for us moved on, but I hope someday to get involved in something like this -- quel fun!
An interesting side note: some of my writing group is privy to the strange conversations I have with Secret Agent Man about race and writing, and some of the strange and upsetting conversations I had at grad school about "representing" and how I wasn't doing it, by creating characters belonging to the dominant culture. It seems that the difficulty isn't new, Gene Andrew Jarrett, adjunct professor of English at the University of Maryland writes in the SF Chronicle Insight section:
Usually, readers assume that a book written by a black author is a story about black people. This definition is everywhere. It has determined the way authors think about and write African American literature, the way publishers classify and distribute it, the way bookstores receive and sell it, the way libraries catalog and shelve it, the way readers locate and retrieve it, the way teachers, the way scholars, and anthologists use it, and the way students learn from it.
The fact is, sometimes writers just want to write about the commonality of human experience, instead of about race. However, it just comes across as weird to some people, and a minority writer can find themselves defensive. It's heartening to know that authors like Toni Morrison and others actually wrote "out of character" pieces in which it's almost impossible to determine the race of the characters in the work. It certainly changes the conversation when the color of the speakers is not at issue... it tends to perhaps centralize the focus on the facts, whether emotional or literal, and create a new angle on literature. A very enlightened idea, that.

1 comment:

a. fortis said...

I agree 100%! It also seems like, in addition to being expected to write about black characters, African-American writers are somehow expected to relate to the reading audience some facet of the "black experience"--same if you're Asian-American, Latino, whatever. Of course, in reality, there is no single experience of ethnicity/race or of anything else. I don't want to bog down in relativism, but ethnicity does not equal obligation! End of story!

Not to exaggerate the argument, but it reminds me of the "one-drop rule" in some insidious fashion - an idea that still permeates our society in so many ways. Is the reading public, the publishing industry, going to completely discount the effects of how and where somebody was raised, the facts of individual experience, in favor of how they look or what their (actual or perceived) ethnic composition is? Is this yet another elusive "obligation" of the modern writer?

Okay, I'll </rant> for now. I know this has come up on Finding Wonderland before, the whole idea of who "gets" to write what.