Writing Outside Experience

A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing by Lisa Yee

This is a conversation I’ve had before with doctoral students studying critical multiculturalism and literature for young adults. We didn’t come to a conclusion. I, personally, had a hard time coming to a conclusion because I’ve felt like (much of the time) diverse people are stereotyped in literature, filling a specific role (e.g. the gay best friend, the token black guy) and doing so statically.

I like Yee’s perspective on the topic of writing outside experience — the idea that even if we are insiders in a particular culture, we don’t know everything. As such, research is necessary. She said she’s an artist, not an autobiographist.

And thinking about it, my two favorite books with characters who are trans*, Freakboy and I Am J, are not written by people who are trans*, and yet I feel a genuine connection (and irritation) with the characters. My graduate students have felt like Junior from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was a stereotype (then as they learned about the author, commentary on stereotypes), which facilitated a conversation about how we can discuss stereotypes with our students through books with stereotyped characters. We can use it as a way into conversations about how we see people and how we treat people and why it’s so hard to imagine others complexly, but why we need to do so.

And perhaps we need to imagine the authors who are trying to give readers a way into experience outside our own more complexly than we do as well.

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