“Why We Need More Writers of Colour and Indigenous Writers to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction” or “Can We Move Beyond Vampires, Hobbits and Witches? (Tho Trollhunter, the film, was damn fine, wasn’t it?)”
I gotta say it: how many more white vampires must we read about? How many more white girls gotta be saved? Jesus chrrrrrist!
Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of books out there that I’ve loved and adored, respected and cherished, written by white authors about white characters. But that’s the point. There are tons of those books out there.
I’ve been reading for a middle-aged long time, and I read across the board in terms of genre, age groups, styles. I have a particular fondness for smart, inventive and cutting edge fantasy and science fiction, especially if it’s feminist. And I am so hungry for novels of the fantastic that are written from a non-Eurocentric subjectivity. I do think that white writers can write about cultures not their own, especially if they do their homework and truly consider what appropriation of voice means (see some older posts I’ve written in my blog). But what I want to see and read are stories that delve deep and long into diverse cultures, histories and legends. I want to read stories from people who wish to share with me tales of magical creatures I’ve never heard of. Of ghosts that have no feet. Of babies who grow heavy when they latch upon your back. I want to read about tiny tree spirits and heroic monkeys, why jellyfish have no bones. And not just content, but the kuuki, that comes with the subject matter. The turn of phrase, the tying of two disparate strings into a different kind of connection. The moment of fushigi, or kimo, that has to do with language, culture, context and history.
The resonance of culture is difficult to measure. It’s not the accumulation and arrangement of a numerous facts. Essentialisms aside, one’s culture(s) creates a particular context of experience and understanding of the world. There is a grammar of seeing and perceiving that comes from being from a specific culture.
That grammar comes with its own set of embedded flaws, as all cultures have their weaknesses and strengths. But in a North American context there’s still a dearth of narratives that fully explores the fantastic from non-white subjectivities. I’ve written at length about the oddness of the shallow treatment of race in The Hunger Games and the lack of cultural content in a previous blog post. I’m looking for more than just a skin colour and small gestures. I want a full-blown world that’s rich, diverse and multi-layered with stories and histories. Writers like Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor are doing this work marvelously. More, I cry out. Give us more.
I don’t think writers of colour and Indigenous writers are obligated to write “out of” or “from” their own cultures of origin. That would fall into a kind of essentialism and it can become an awfully slippery slope.
As a writer I’ve chosen to have Asian North American girls and women as the heroes and anti-heroes of my novels and short stories. I have taken this on as a kind of commitment (although Darkest Light, my latest novel, had me, for the first time, writing a main character who is both white and male!)—a small vow to do my part as a writer colour to bring more visibility to non-white subjectivities in literature.
Who we see in texts matters. How those narratives are formed matters. Not just the race of characters—the construction of the stories themselves. What’s a “classic story” in one culture is not so for another. The shapes of stories can say just as much as the content.
I am hungry for other kinds of stories.
I want to read stories and books that will let me see my world in different ways, not re-inscribe the world I’ve learned through the public education system and popular culture. Let me dream in a language not my own.