It’s been a while since I first came across the TED talk by the African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, called ‘The Danger of A Single Story’. It struck a cord in me a raised feelings that I still struggle to fully articulate.
It pretty much went viral, so I’m sure most people have seen it already, but in case you haven’t, Adichie basically talks about the importance of having more than “a single story”, a single perspective, available in literature. She also comments on the importance of allowing people from different communities to tell their own stories. Because of course who can better tell nuanced and complex stories about a group than the people who are a part of it?
This is all seems like common sense, and yet it’s something that we seem to have particular trouble doing here in the states. Our literature, indeed all our media outlets often leave a lot of people’s voices out of their storytelling. And on the rare occasion where a story is told about a marginalized or a group that’s not considered “mainstream”, they more often than not are told from an outsiders perspective, are heavily reliant on stereotypes, or both.
There are of course some wonderful exceptions. I still remember reading Ursula LeGuin’s ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’, and being startled (and thrilled) at the fact that the main character was a person of color. It was the first book I remember reading that had characters, not just one, but several, who looked like me. That series, and that experience, launched my lifelong love of the fantasy genre.
I read those books sometime in the ’90’s, twenty years or more after they were published. Now that I’m a bit more involved in writing and publishing as a career I find myself wondering why a voracious reader like myself hadn’t run across a main character that was a person of color until that time? Why is it that it’s still so difficult to find characters from different ethnic backgrounds, ability levels, etc. in mainstream fiction? And why on earth, would publishers try to hide it when they do publish these stories, considering how rare they are in the first place?
We live in an increasingly multicultural world, it stands to reason that this should be reflected in our literature and media. Certainly there are a plethora of writers of color out there, so why is it so rare to see them in the mainstream media? And perhaps more important, how do we fix this?
To do my part towards this end I’ve set a goal for myself for the new year: In order to support marginalized writers, I’m going to find a book a month to read that’s written by or features characters that are POC, disabled, and/or GLBT and write a review.
Feel free to leave me some suggestions in the comments if you know any good books I should check out. Also, check back and see if any of the books I review sound like something you might want to pick up yourself!