February 2010 Archives

Author Authenticity and the Right to Write

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In this week's Multicultural Minute video, author Beverly Patt mentions that the authenticity of an author's voice was a "very controversial subject at the time [of writing her book]." At the time! That's funny, since it's one of the most controversial subjects of ALL time. And it's one of the issues that fascinates me most. Who should have the right to tell a story? Can people outside of a group write authentically about members of the group?

I asked these and similar questions to authors I met at the Kindling Words conference and noticed that a number of authors had decided, after struggling with this question, to write their book from a Caucasian character's point of view. Even if the story and theme were about the other group, they created a character who filtered the story through their own Caucasian experience.

There were a few reasons for this, but the biggest was that the authors were afraid of receiving criticism for co-opting a story from a group they did not belong to. And while it's true that some outspoken individuals believe that no one can represent a group they don't have firsthand knowledge of, they underestimate the power of imaginative empathy and the mighty strength of good research.

And they also seem to forget a most important point: no one is asking the author to represent an entire group of people. We are asking them to present one person's story. Almost because there is so little available about some people, we expect every story to be THE representative story and not just A story.

Unfortunately, this fear of criticism, coupled with a disproportionately large percentage of white published authors, results in a publishing landscape where too many people of color are relegated to secondary-character roles.

So. As you may know, I do not agree that any one group of people has more of a right to tell a story than another. I do not believe in looking at the author's name before judging the quality of a book (and even if I did, what would that tell me, in this day and age?). I urge authors to write on whatever subjects most move you, and from the point of view that most moves you. Don't be cowed by the small-minded and exclusionary among us. When they twitter and post diatribes on the blogs, don't worry. We of the broad mind and love of the good story will be here to cover your back.

The Multicultural Minute #22: Beverly Patt

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This week's special guest is author Beverly Patt. She has book coming out in April called Best Friends Forever: A World War II Scrapbook. I ask her how she handled being an "outsider" and writing about the Japanese experience.

For more information about Beverly Patt, visit her website.

Books by Beverly Patt:
Best Friends Forever: A World War II Scrapbook

The Multicultural Minute #21: Christine Taylor-Butler

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Last weekend, I attended the Kindling Words conference, which was an amazing weekend spent with distinguished children's book authors, illustrators, and editors. Not only did I learn a lot about the publishing trade, but I got to meet a whole slew of great people, and I got to talk to a bunch of them about multicultural books. Even better, the issue of multiculturalism in children's literature came up on the last day, and we had an insightful and productive discussion about how we can make the future of children's books more multicultural. This discussion was led by author Christine Taylor-Butler, who I caught afterward to ask the question: What is your one wish for the future of multicultural children's books?

More about Christine Taylor-Butler:
Christine's web site
Christine on Twitter

Christine Taylor-Butler is the author of more than 40 children's books, including:
Sacred Mountain Everest
No Boys Allowed
A Mom Like No Other
Thurgood Marshall
Booker T. Washington
A Home in the Rainforest
(see all of Christine's books here)
MRFLF Logo.jpgA public service announcement from the great folks at Mixed Roots:

"The largest west coast Loving Day celebration kicks off the 3rd Annual Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival on June 12, 2010.  The Festival celebrates storytelling of the Mixed racial and cultural experience and brings together innovative artists, film and book lovers, and families for two days of writing and film workshops, readings, film screenings, a special family event and live performance by talented comedians, musicians and actors.  All events are free and open to the public.

"WE ARE CURRENTLY ACCEPTING FILM, LITERARY, LIVE PERFORMANCE, AND WORKSHOP SUBMISSIONS. For submission requirements and more information, visit: www.mxroots.org"

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Blog Contributors

Renee Ting is the President and Publisher of Shen's Books. She is the author of The Prince's Diary and the blog, Renee's Book of the Day.

Emily Jiang is a writer of children's and YA literature. She also blogs at TLeaf Readings.

Shen’s Books is a publisher of multicultural children’s literature that emphasizes cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia.

Through books, we can share a world a stories, building greater understanding and tolerance within our increasingly diverse communities as well as throughout our continuously shrinking globe.


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