Books Jan 24, 2020 20:18:55 GMT
Post by Kapitan on Jan 24, 2020 20:18:55 GMT
I'm just catching up on this week's apparent controversy about "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins. It is the latest example of something that I understand has been going on especially in Young Adult fiction in recent years, but from what I can recall is rare in (adult) literary fiction.
The issue: the novel tells the story of some Mexican immigrants; Cummins is a white American. By many accounts, the story is great. Cummins got a huge advance, meaning it was highly anticipated and had high expectations. It has been chosen as an Oprah book club selection. A NY Times reviewer basically apologized for liking it and said she probably wasn't the best person to review it because she, too, was neither Mexican nor an immigrant. NPR pulled an interview with Cummins and instead ran a follow-up about the controversy.
I have not read the book; I don't proclaim to be an expert about the book. But the concept of this--you can only write what you know about people who (more or less) are the same as you--is beyond stupid. Where are the boundaries, for one? If I'm a white guy who grew up in rural Minnesota and live in Minneapolis, may I write about a white guy who grew up in rural Iowa and lives in Des Moines? What about Kentucky, and Louisville? What about a white guy of southern European descent rather than my German-Scandinavian descent? What about a white woman? Or a gay white man, when I'm straight, who otherwise matches my life experience?
Fiction literally would not exist if we held to this principle. It would become autobiography.
What matters in storytelling is primarily the quality of storytelling. Is the author technically good at writing? Is the author skilled at putting together compelling narratives? These are the keys to good fiction, not whether the author is demographically representative of his or her protagonists. (By the way, what about other characters? Are authors allowed to have other characters outside of their demographics? Or are they to populate their "imaginary" worlds of multitudes of clones?)
Here is a CNN story on the topic.