Thursday, April 24, 2014

Diverse Lit

So yeah, I'm an Asian writer. I was born and raised in Honolulu, the most diverse city in the US, and had a very unique American childhood. Some of this personal background pops up in my writing. I have a novel in the works that deals with growing up in Hawaii, and then having to move to a rural town in the Midwest. More details to come.  :)

I've always been sensitive about race and diversity when writing, so I was fascinated to learn about the #diverselit phenomenon on Twitter. Basically, it's a lively conversation about diversity in fiction, how to embrace and celebrate diversity, and what authors' responsibilities are when it comes to creating fully-dimensional characters. I love the ideas that are flying about, and wholly endorse diversity. Octavia Butler's sci-fi works are amazing because they are presented through the lens of race. Cynthia Kadohata is a YA writer whose portrayals of immigrant experience remain with me, years after reading. And there's a whole herd of great local Hawaiian writers who will give you a different perspective of " paradise." Ask me for reading recommendations! I have many!

As for me, writing about race hasn't been easy. There's a bit of an assumption that if you're of Asian descent, you'll be writing some version of the immigrant experience. In my case, I'm four generations removed from that event. I feel more American than anything else, with English as my only language (despite attempts at German and Spanish). The foods I grew up eating was a melting pot of a dozen different cultures, many specific to the islands. Sometimes putting myself out there as a representative of diversity seems like a fraud, and I'm afraid of cheapening other people's experiences. 

And now here's the shocking reveal: 'The End of You and Me' takes place in a suburb of New York. All the main characters are white, and largely middle-class. 

I struggled with this choice. I considered making one of the characters Asian-American. But ultimately, I felt that the decisions I made fit the particular story I was telling. Will I make this same decision for future works? Probably not. There are a lot of stories left to tell, and I know I have the unique privilege of telling them. 

So what do you think? Do writers of color have the responsibility of writing "what they know"? Can white authors write from diverse points of view? How can we make literature stronger and more inclusive? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

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