Do you dare write a story based in another culture? One of the biggest debates in multicultural writing is “who should write what.” Should I, a WASP from the Midwest, be allowed to tell the story of a Native American child or a Chinese woman?
The most common answer, the one most readily accepted, is no. I shouldn’t touch these stories. Stories should only be written by someone from that culture. Why? Because they are the only people who know the reality.
I’m sad to say (not really sad), that I don’t entirely agree. I came to writing through academia, specifically Anthropology and History. In anthropology, I learned that you should not study your own culture because you won’t be able to do it well. You are too close to the world in which you group up and you will not be able to examine it with any degree of objectivity.
Not that I agree with that 100% either. Some people are very good at self-examination. Others? Not so very much.
Then I read Irene Latham’s post, Giving Myself Permission to Write Across Culture. Her debut novel, Leaving Gee’s Bend, is a middle grade, set in an African American community in the 1930s. In defending her ability to write this book, she quotes Julius Lester who said, ““The soul’s identity does not necessarily correspond to the race, culture, class, or nation into which one is born.”
I believe that your right to write a particular story comes from your ability. Can you do it with transparency? Can you see both the dark and the light? Does this story come from within your soul? Then put pen to paper because it is a story you need to tell.