This essay is a sequel to Charlie Jane Ander’s essay, “Never Say You Can’t Survive: When Is It Okay To Write About Someone Else’s Culture or Experience?” (published October 6, 2020)
And Gladly Wolde I Lerne
I teach an average of 70 writing classes a year—overseas, online, in local library meeting rooms. Most of these classes cover ways of representing characters with significant demographic differences from the author, their editor, the intended audience, historical perceptions of the subject, and so on. I study this sort of thing, and I love sharing what I find out, and I love to keep on learning as I teach. The question-and-answer sessions ending classes are marvelously informative.
One lesson I’ve gotten from repeatedly hearing student questions is that authors who care about inclusive representation in fiction are often deeply concerned about messing it up. We think we can do too little in pursuit of “Writing the Other.” We think we can do too much. We think we can hurt people by unknowingly perpetuating racial stereotypes, religious stereotypes, and all the rest of the tedious clichés unimaginative authors avail themselves of. All of this is true, and all of these dangers are avoidable with work.