Monday, July 13, 2009

Writing Everybody Else

A few months ago, I put up a post called Writing Black, in which I discussed a conflict I feel within myself, as an author: the desire to write books with black characters so there will be more of those out in the world vs. the desire to write any book I feel inspired to write, regardless of the main character's race. I have yet to resolve it in my mind.

Recently I've been participating in an online "round table" with a group of diverse female authors who write books for teens, called "What a Girl Wants." We're talking about a lot of things, but we're trying to get at the heart of what young girls want and need to hear from us, as their older sisters (in a community sense). We all take this role very seriously, even though our profession is pretty much fun most of the time.

Last week, we started talking about multicultural characters in books for teens. The discussion kind of blew me away, because there were so many sides all coming together. We all want to speak to a younger version of ourselves... by reaching the teen girls running around high schools today through our books. Does that mean we should each only write characters who are like us?

When I wrote the Writing Black post way back when, one thing didn't occur to me: if I write books starring non-black characters, how might those stories be received by non-black audiences? I worry about shirking a responsibility to represent on behalf of my own race, but should I also worry about overstepping my bounds and tromping on someone else's?

Some of the ladies in the round table say yes--the only authentic portrayal of any culture or race can come from within. Others say no--anyone can write about any culture, as long as they make a serious effort to get it right.

What do you think? Whose responsibility is it to tell certain stories?

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