Can a writer write without controversy about characters of a different race from her?
In an interview with Khaled Hosseini I heard on NPR, the interviewer asked Hosseini if it was more difficult for him to write from the perspective of women in A Thousand Splendid Suns than it was to write from the perspective of men in his debut novel, The Kite Runner. He said at first he struggled with it only because he tried too hard to “think like a woman,” always second-guessing himself, wondering if that line or this one “sounds more like a man, like myself.” Would a woman say this? Would a woman do that? The constant questioning crippled him.
Finally, he stopped thinking about the differences between a woman and a man and just wrote from the perspective of motivations. Would this character be motivated to say this, or do that? That liberated him and ultimately made A Thousand Splendid Suns one frickin’ good book.
Does the same apply to racial differences, or should I say, perceived and presumed racial differences?
In the novel I’m working on, I write about the thoughts of characters that are not Asian American. I want to argue that I should be able to do this, but I have doubts. And even if by some great luck I can competently do this, do I have the right to do it? I mean, I know how antsy I myself get when I read a book about Asia penned by a white guy from Minnesota. Nell Freudenberger (a pretty white girl) wrote from the point of view of Indian men in Lucky Girls and did it quite well. In one story from Ideas of Heaven, Joan Silber wrote about the Boxer Rebellion, describing the thoughts of Chinese characters, and that was just god-awful. I’ll be writing about blacks and whites from a yellow perspective. Hmm. Oh this will be an interesting excursion.