Changing perspectives – writing from a different view point

Slice of Life logoOver the last few weeks I have found myself in a similar conversation about writing.  The question is:

Can you write a children’s book from the perspective of a different culture, race or gender?

In fiction the gender issue is done all the time. Men write women characters. Women write men characters. There are tons of good examples. Then we ask the question of race or culture. Can a white person write a book that contains a character of color as the main character? Can a black person write from a white characters perspective?

Yes – I think they can.

Then comes the question should they? Now things get even tricker. As writers we do lots of research – reading, interviewing. This is helpful to begin to know the character, the perspective. If we are going to step into a new view point then we must do it with help and care. We can not stand alone. Taking on new perspectives is how we learn, how we set up questions for our reader to learn.

I would assume that an author who is writing from a different perspective would ask people of that race, culture or gender to proof their work, seek their thoughts and understanding.

There is so much intwined in culture and race. There are little nuances that might not be understood or known by the writer. In some Native America tribes stories are shared in the winter only when the trickster is asleep, there are other stories that cultures might hold scared and wish not to be shared to a mass audience. It is the responsibility of the writer to walk with care when stepping into a new perspective but step they must.

As readers and teachers we also must support the authors as they explore the questions of race, culture and gender. It is our job as teachers to bring these works to our students and to ask the questions. Does this ring true to your experience? Why or why not?

Books like Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper and the adult book Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon step into the view point of another race. They are white writers writing from the voice of another race. They might not do it perfectly but then it is for us as readers to begin to understand why or why not. It opens up the discussion of race and culture which needs to be shared and talked about in this country.

Think about it?  What are your thoughts?

We also need to open up and make room for our authors of color – for their work to be shared and promoted openly. Another topic for another day would be book covers – do publishers share openly about the book or are they designing covers for sale.  Liars by Justine Larbalestier is an example of  that – a story about a black girl – the cover picture is of a white girl.  Really??  (But that is another post for another day.)

 

 

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About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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