Diversity and The Danger of the Single Story

I enjoyed reading the blog archive about the recent Twitter #kidlitchat on diversity, thoughtfully archived by Greg Pincus (www.thehappyaccident.net). Issues raised during the chat included whether or not people should write outside their own cultures or gender or sexual orientation; whether or not awards should be given for books centering on different ethnicities (perhaps because this risks celebrating our differences and perhaps unwittingly creating an “other”); and others asked why there are not more main protagonists of color and/or LGBTQ.

The twitter chat left me thinking how all these questions and opinions are valid if our intentions as writers, agents and publishers are to help create a more tolerant world. A world in which no “single story” is told, to borrow a phrase from TED Talk author Chimamanda Adichie, a writer from Nigeria who grew up reading British and American literature. “Even books that come across as stereotypical have a grain of truth to them, they simply lack the complete picture,” Adichie says. One of the stories this writer tells during her TED Talk is about her former professor (presumably Western) who responded as follows after reading a draft of her novel, “This is not authentically African, your characters are just like me. They are educated, middle class and drive cars.” She explained that this professor, like many people around the world, have been influenced by a single narrative when it comes to describing individual African nations. To listen to her talk, click on the link below.

Publishers can help create the complete picture by publishing more than one kind of book. I often write stories set in the Middle East and therefore I am keyed into books relating to this part of the world. What I mostly see on the shelves of libraries and bookstores at home and in Europe are stories about martyrs, terrorists and the oppression of women. I recently discussed this with a librarian who looked at me and said flatly, “Well that’s how it is over there!” Yet my years of traveling, living and working in several Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries have taught me that this region is not synonymous with strife. Neither is it synonymous with Islam, as there are many living there who follow other religious traditions, or are secular or atheist.

Reza Aslan, internationally renown religion scholar and author of No god, but God, often points out that contrary to what many Americans think, all Muslims do not believe the same thing. In a recent interview on Gulf News.com Reza also cautions about reading certain authors who use their celebrity status to make generalizations about places and religions and therefore create for us all, what Chimamanda Adichie describes as an incomplete “single story.” To read Reza’s article, visit: (http://gulfnews.com/arts-entertainment/books/islam-s-pulse-in-the-us-1.837480)

To listen to the afore mentioned TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

Diversity clip art from: http://www.fotosearch.com/FSB046/x29936942/