74 minutes | Mar 2, 2020

052: Dishing the American Dirt

What does it mean to write a protagonist that is completely different from you? Are you a guest, a tourist, or an invader? How do you write correctly and thoughtfully? What happens when you get it wrong? Listen up as Polli and Kate share some dirt and some resources.  Show notes: https://lplks.org/blogs/post/052-dishing-the-american-dirt/ Two Book Minimum: How to Catch A Mole by Marc Hamer The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez Dishing the...American Dirt: If you're a book nerd in any way, or interested in #OwnVoices literature, you've probably heard about the American Dirt drama. If not, here's a blurb from Rachelle Hampton: American Dirt follows the journey of a mother and son fleeing Mexico for America after their entire family is murdered on the orders of a local cartel kingpin. Before the slaughter, Lydia Quixano Pérez is a bookseller in Acapulco, mother to Luca and wife to journalist Sebastián. It is Sebastián’s exposé on the kingpin, who also happens to be a frequent customer of Lydia’s bookstore, that serves as the linchpin for the violence that sets off the novel and Lydia’s journey through the desert to the border. In her afterword Cummins describes a four-year writing process that included extensive travel and interviews in Mexico. Cummins writes of her desire to humanize “the faceless brown mass” that she believes is so many people’s perception of immigrants. “I wish someone slightly browner than me would write it,” she continues. “But then I thought, if you’re the person who has the capacity to be a bridge, why not be a bridge.”  (Slate.com) So. While the book had been released quite a while ago, it came out this year (to rave reviews) and was picked for Oprah's Book Club, which then led to some deeper digging and scandalous responses. One of the first and most vocal opponents was Myriam Gurba, author of Mean, whose lyrical takedown was (in Kate's view)... spectacular. It's pretty brutal and covers multiple levels, including the unnatural-sounding use of Spanglish and the lack of Mexican sensibility. She argues against Cummins' right to write this book, especially given the number of Latinx authors who are remaining unpublished or undiscovered. The backlash against this line of criticism has been stronggggg. And not cute.  David Bowles' piece, American Dirt: Dignity & Equity, offers a nuanced view of what it means to write the "other," and what a responsibility it is -- "When you write about an underrepresented group, one whose own voices have been excluded from the world of publishing, not getting it right isn’t just disastrous: it’s harmful to people in that group." Bowles' article gives lots of stats and figures to back up his argument, as well as tips FOR writing characters different from you. One to check out is called Writing the Other, a series by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, which has tons of resources for current or prospective authors. Likewise, Alexander Chee addresses this issue often in workshops and lectures and says "Many writers are not really asking for advice — they are asking if it is okay to find a way to continue as they have." He asks a few questions that are very helpful to writers, creators, and consumers: 1. Why do you want to write from this character’s point of view? 2. Do you read writers from this community currently? 3. Why do you want to tell this story? -----------------
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