How do we empower the people we call the voiceless? Pass the mic.
– Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl.com, June 2016 panel at the White House’s United State of Women Summit
An editorial piece by Lionel Shriver caught my eye in the Tampa Bay Times this morning. Not familiar with Shriver’s work or immediately with the context of her situation as a keynote speaker at the Brisbane Writers Festival, the editorial puzzled me.
“Briefly, ” she wrote, “my address maintained that fiction writers should be allowed to write fiction — thus should not let concerns about “cultural appropriation” constrain our creation of characters from different backgrounds than our own. I defended fiction as a vital vehicle for empathy. If we have permission to write only about our own personal experience, there is no fiction, but only memoir. Honestly, my thesis seemed so self-evident that I’d worried the speech would be bland.”
As a writer and an avid reader, the topic interested me, and at first I couldn’t see what the issue was. Of course readers have to speak in other voices, and sometimes from the perspective of people different from themselves. Without the ability to do that, we wouldn’t have Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird. Right?