The right to write

One of the most difficult aspects of my last assignment on multicultural and diverse literature (MCD) was coming to grips with the extent to which all literature, including MCD literature is dominated by white and/or western based authors.  When I have more headspace I’d like to write an article on what kind of criteria one could apply to assess the legitimacy of authors to tackle MCD themes – aka “the right to write”. It would be a set of guidelines that librarians and even teachers and students could use to critically look at existing literature and to use when deciding what books should be purchased and/or included in curricula activities.

My thoughts so far are around:

  • origin of author or illustrator – birth and residency
  • whether they are cultural / religious insider by residency / descent / marriage
  • time spent living in the region / culture
  • language – I think this is HUGE – language=culture – as a parent of a child who we put in chinese language immersion school at a young age her access to the language = access to the culture and she is no longer as western culturally assimilated as she was before. I’m thinking of Pearl Buck now as well – she is revered in China as someone with a “chinese soul” whereas I don’t think that is given to many other ‘touristic’ writers.
  • Role as gatekeeper or guide – I do think that authors could spend more time in nurturing talent and “passing the baton” rather than blocking the way – there is the balance between accessibility for the western sensibilities – it can’t be too unfamiliar, uncomfortable (I’m even thinking of how my students found Bleakboy “weird” and that’s just Aussie vs. their usual diet of UK / USA – but fortunately they didn’t reject it) but it needs to be authentic – particularly the inner dialogue – we can’t impose western sensibilities about gender rights, individual rights on a collectivist society – my Chinese / Asian friends do not rebel against the fact that their parents chose their study direction, university and career (and sometimes husband) for them, because the assumption is that the parent knows best and has their best interest at heart – not all the stuff we project onto the situation.

Yes, there are the gaps and I agree without the filling by Deborah Ellis etal, our students wouldn’t have the awareness at all – but we’re 10-20-30-60 years on in the case of some issues and STILL the middle class white people are writing and being published. Why? And whose lives are richer / poorer as a result of these works.

Just my random thoughts this morning.  Any comments?

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