In defense of Ms. Shriver: Cultural appropriation in writing

Lionel Shriver, author of 13 novels, was criticized this weekend for speaking out in defense of cultural appropriation. “Otherwise all I could write about would be smart-alecky, 59-year-old, 5-foot-2 inch white women from North Carolina.” NYT: Lionel Shrivers Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers’ Conference

Shriver is right, of course. It’s our job as writers to imagine life from all different points of view. Because we were given the ability to do that. Currently, I—a five-foot-tall white woman from North Carolina—am trying to write from the point of view of a six-foot-six tall Elf from another dimension who finds himself in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the company of a young Cherokee woman. Not really comparable to Shriver’s cultural appropriations of the homeless, African Americans, the elderly and others, but different from my own life, nonetheless.

Imagine if all writers wrote exclusively about their own culture—would the temptation not be for those stories to be consumed by those of the same race and economic class? And would that not contribute to narrow-mindedness and, eventually, prejudice that your way is the only way?

As a librarian, I strive to incorporate stories from all cultures in our independent, globally focused school library. As a writer, I try to keep in mind that the world is a very big place with lots of ideas in it (some would say that my biggest stretch would be to take the POV of a Trump supporter…), and try to channel those ideas through my writing. This is important for me as a writer, as well as you as a reader. Don’t condemn cultural appropriation in the books you read. Celebrate the fact that the author has made an attempt to broaden horizons (their own as well as their readers).

And if we get it wrong…be gentle.