The Mixed Bag // Issue #08

In January, the book American Dirt was published. During the many months of promotion for this title, images of the eye-catching book cover repeatedly popped up while scrolling through Instagram, and it was included in almost every “Books to Read in 2020” list.

Then the reviews about the book being offensive, inaccurate, and shallow came pouring in, and the controversy surrounding the book took over our Twitter feed. To say we were (and still are) surprised is an understatement: the book sold for seven figures, it was named Oprah’s Book Club pick, it’s already been optioned for a film, and it’s clear that there were many, many dollars thrown into this book’s marketing campaign. We thought it would immediately hit the New York Times Best Seller list and continue to be the darling of the industry.

All of this made us start really thinking about who gets to publish what stories and about what it means to write characters from perspectives and experiences that aren’t necessarily our/your own. Writers can’t be the only ones thinking about this topic, though. At the end of the day, it’s the industry that perpetuates this harm – publishers and those working in the industry trying to appeal to only one type of audience. Change has to start with the people who make the decisions on who and what to publish.

This topic is important to us as a small press, especially because our mission is to publish and promote inclusive stories that give children and adults a deeper look into the diversity of our world, as well as a reflection of their places in it. It’s a complex issue, and we’re dedicated to learning more. 

Below we’ve rounded up articles on this very topic to start the conversation, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION 

An author shares her recommendations for worried writers who write about cultures, experiences, and identities that are not their own.

EMPATHY AS CRAFT 

When writing about topics that you don’t know about firsthand, here’s the secret: empathy.

ADVICE 

Author Alexander Chee shares his advice to writers on what to consider when writing about topics outside your area of knowledge or experience. 

WHO HAS THE POWER? 

Writing about other people’s experiences isn’t off-limits to writers, but writers should challenge themselves to treat every character in their book with equal nuance and depth of humanity.

MORE CONTEXT

If you’re interested in a starting point for learning more about why American Dirt is so troubling, a Los Angeles Times writer offers important insight and a reliable perspective.

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Mixed Feelings

How do you handle writing about identities, cultures, and experiences that aren’t your own?

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Originally published in the Issue #08: January 31, 2020, newsletter, The Mixed Bag. Sign up to receive weekly newsletters and updates.

February 03, 2020 — Team Talking Louis

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