I remember rocking my babies re-creating stories to speak to their culture. We read about Guatemala in books like Guatemala ABC’s, most of what we found were fact based non-fiction. I read everything I could get my hands on about Guatemala, and the Mayans. But if you had asked me then, I would have told you we need a Mayan Princess story. If you ask me now? I would say sure that is great, but we also need stories with authenticity.
Last Spring, I had the pleasure of meeting Rita Williams-Garcia. We had a brief conversation where I told her my daughter was mad in the story One Crazy Summer, because Fern got teased over her white doll. Why had this part in particular resonated with my daughter? Because I had been begging her for years to buy the “other” doll. See this one looks like you, see this one has pretty black hair. She then would choose the blonde. Williams-Garcia said she had the same struggle with her daughter.
It occurred to me I have an unusual relationship with dolls. My mother bought me porcelain dolls when I was growing up, until after I was a mother. At one point, after three blonde haired dolls in a row, I asked her to look for something different. I explained, I want to have a doll of every “type.” OH ouch- yes I admit I was not fully actualized or politically correct from conception. I wanted a red head, a black doll, a boy, and an Asian doll. What I got every year was a doll that was just a little more of a distinction from the last. My mother didn’t give me an “Asian” doll, she gave me a Japanese doll, a Chinese doll, etc. She might not have given me a composite “Asian Doll.” However, there are these dolls that represent a whole host of people that may not identify with them. While my daughter can like and appreciate the traditional Mayan dolls we have, they don’t represent her. I think the book industry is doing that, too.
How have I looked at diversity? Who is included? When we talk we often mean racial diversity, or perhaps sexual orientation. We do not give much thought to gender and ableness. We have a lot of “white girl stories,” I’m not saying we don’t. But gender should be a concern, have we told enough stories that deal with female concerns? Why is it when a book deals with female concerns they are immediately labeled “Issue books?” Strong female women, why are we putting up with this?
How have I considered the effects of physical and mental disabilities and the reimagining of stories that create an empowering narrative? Until last July, not much. The fact is most of the people I have known in my life have been able bodied. However, my daughter’s love of Cece Bell’s El Deafo. Helped me not only to understand how isolating this difference can be but also, how reading can empower people. When my daughter shared the book with her class, they too loved it. She was able to come out of her shell and explain the book to classmates and develop friendships.
- What stories can I tell well?
- What stories should I tell?
- How can I develop more realistic “other” characters?
- Who do I have in my network that can help me get other voices right?
- Have I made this character a porcelain doll representation or a richly developed character/person?
- Write the Wrong- Write the annoying itch that keeps telling you something is not right.
- Right to be Wrong- You should do everything you can to be authentic, sometimes writers have to be "wrong" to be authentic.
- Write even when you are wrong- You will make mistakes, it is better to be the person who poked around with the topic than the one ignoring it
- Right to Write- Above all it is our Right and Privilege to have freedom of speech and I won't deny that even to people who say things I find deplorable.