Today I wanted to talk about something else that happened there and something I've been thinking a lot about lately. Like, a lot. And that's the We Need Diverse Books movement that's really big in the readerly/writerly worlds these days. Here's hoping I can make my thoughts make sense!
So during the conference, we went to a class about diverse books and characters. I'm always interested in this mostly because I have characters in my story that fit into this category and I'm so worried about doing it right.
But first, before this class even got started, I talked for a moment with the writer sitting next to me. When I found out where she's from, I was like, "Seriously? That's kind of where I'm setting this story of mine! Because I want to tie in this Native American legend/myth/tradition that I first learned about when I was passing through your town."
Her eyes got big and she said, "Oh, you want to be careful if you're writing about them. And about that aspect of their stories. Oh, yeah. Be careful."
So we talked and I said, yeah, I've tried to do a lot of research. (though I know I should do WAY more.) And I said, yeah, I know it's a pretty touchy subject and yeah, I know they don't talk about it and they take it pretty seriously and all. And yeah, it's just plain scary.
Then the class started and they talked about the need for diverse books. And while I totally agree I think that what we REALLY need is diverse authors! Because I feel like and the people on the panel went on to pretty much say too, that if you don't know anything about that culture or race or way of living, then how can you get it right? How can you write about them without it sounding cliche and stereotyped and all? And how it's not enough to just turn your character into a POC just to say you've got diversity, if you can't write that character without stereotyping. And how only people who know what it's like could really get it right.
|I love this picture of a Navajo guy.|
So, when we call for diverse books, what we really need is the diverse authors to write them, don't you think? So as I'm starting out in this writing thing, how can I ever expect to do it right with POCs if I have no experience? My life has been very un-diverse, sadly. With the exception of several family members who have been adopted, but raised very un-diversely just like me, and now my daughter-in-law who is giving us some taste of diversity, but still, just barely. Know what I mean?
Then they go on to say that if you do have a diverse character in your story, be sure to do the research and even have someone from that culture read it and "approve" it basically. At which point I wanted to hold my head and moan, "where will I find Native American readers?!" That's when the girl next to me handed me her email and said, let me know if you want readers from the Navajo Nation.
And then I really got scared!
I mean how cool would that be. But still. How scary!
So I left that class quite frustrated and wondering why I thought up this story in the first place!
Bottom line is, I feel that we do need books with diverse characters but it has to be organic, meaning, we can't just throw them in there and say, Hey look! I have a diverse character! I especially hate the token gay character. Make it make sense for the story, please! And yes, here's hoping that the call for diverse characters doesn't just perpetuate the perception some have of certain people and that it instead helps break those down. We need diverse authors!
Meanwhile, since I'm so very un-diverse myself... what does that mean for me? Can I truly write diverse characters? Do I keep on with my Native American story even though I really have no idea what I'm doing?
I'd love to know what you think on all this. Am I making sense at all? Do you see what I'm trying to get at? Am I justified in this frustration? Or do I suck it up and get over it!!! :)