Does a Kirkus “Star” Mean the Book is Good? Or that it is Culturally Safe?

In full disclosure: I have not read the book American Heart by Laura Morarity, however, I have read the NPR interview covering the Kirkus Review. It should be noted that an author or publisher pays for a Kirkus review, and Kirkus is in the business of providing editing services.

Originally, this novel was given a positive review, including a “star” within the Kirkus system, which is a significant achievement and a benefit to marketing the book. Objections were raised however, and the original review was withdrawn, and a new one put in its place. The updated review, which did not include a “star,” also stated: “It is a policy of Kirkus Reviews that books with diverse subject matter and protagonists are assigned to Own Voices reviewers—writers who can draw upon lived experience when evaluating texts.” The star originally awarded was withdrawn when the reviewer went back and “clarified” that the Muslim character is only viewed through a white protagonist’s filter.

Certainly, anyone can criticize any artistic work for any reason, and I applaud Kirkus for its corporate sensitivity to cultural differences, and accurate portrayals of, as they put it, “marginalized groups.” Yet, its actions trouble me because of the implications.

The first is that only writers of color or from marginalized group may write characters of that color or marginalized group. The second is that, perhaps, only white writers are restricted from writing characters of color or from marginalized groups.

This is a novel written for entertainment. It is not a classroom text book or a scholarly non-fiction on culture and society. It is fiction. While it is proper to insist on accuracy in text books, or the like, in fiction, the author is free to express reality, and perhaps even take the story beyond reality, to tell the tale.

I’m left wondering where the publishing and reviewing industry has been for the last 100 years, as men wrote horribly distorted female characters and perpetuated stereotypes of women that reverberate in society today. Women were historically seen through “a male protagonist’s lens.” Indeed, some say that women are a “marginalized group” within publishing writ large. Taken to its logical extreme, only women can write a female character, only men can write male characters, only blacks can write black characters, etc. Where does it end? Can fantasy or science fiction be written only by authors who are aliens?

Reading and writing characters is one way to “walk a mile in their shoes” and we should be ENCOURAGING authors to write diverse characters, and — as Justina Ireland says in the NPR interview — “get it right.” If readers don’t like how a character is written, then don’t buy the book. Literature can help bring us together, instead this short-sighted approach to punishing authors for creating diverse characters will polarize us even more.

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.npr.org/2017/10/21/559215264/kirkus-changes-review-after-american-heart-draws-outrage-as-white-savior-narrati

Advertisements
Does a Kirkus “Star” Mean the Book is Good? Or that it is Culturally Safe?

Black and White Challenge

I’ve been participating in the Facebook Black and White photo challenge. Lorin Cary, a writing buddy from the Cambria Writers Workshop, challenged me. I’m a photographer (amateur) from way back, and this forced me, well encouraged is really a better word, no one held a loaded camera to my head and said, “Do This!” — but I wanted to embrace it fully. I’ve been pleased with what I’ve come up with, and wanted to share it with you. Here are all seven images I chose to post. Now its up to me to challenge myself to keep adding to my library of interesting images.

Black and White Challenge

Pleasant Valley School Visit

There is a first time for everything. While this is not the first time I’ve spoken to an elementary or middle grade class, it was the first time as an author. What a thrill! Mrs. Haggmark’s class of 5th and 6th graders, many of whom LOVE to write, shared the kind of stories they love to read and write and heard about my work. I passed along some tips on researching ideas and encouraged them to push through rewriting and to submit their own work. They inspired me!

A big thank you to Mrs. Haggmark and her class, and Librarian Mrs. Borden.

Pleasant Valley School Visit

It’s Embarrassing

Driving back from the Central California SCBWI Writers Day yesterday, I recounted my most embarrassing moment to a travel companion. She howled with laughter, “That would make a great story!” Using the philosophy that it can’t be embarrassing if you own it and use it, here goes.

neon-sign-of-treasure-island-casino-on-the-strip-in-las-vegas-nevada-A1E8N7In late October of 1993, we checked into the newly opened Treasure Island Hotel and Casino for the wedding of a colleague of my husband. The actual ceremony took place across the street in a little chapel that disappeared when another behemoth hotel and casino went up in 2007. The reception was held in a cavernous banquet room in Treasure Island. Sitting in the sea of round tables, seating ten each, we waited for the bride and groom to appear. And we sat. Until I couldn’t hold off a trip to the ladies room any longer.

Now, I should explain something here. Due to some feet problems, I was wearing flats. 2-2-flats-shoes-png-fileGenerally, I hate wearing flats because I’m vertically challenged to begin with, and feel short and squat, especially in crowds of tall people, which these all seemed to be. This was also the era of white pantyhose. I wore a pink skirt and jacket, with a white shell top, white hose and black flats. I looked like a dish of strawberry ice cream. In retrospect I shouldn’t have left the hotel room dressed that way, and the white shell was damp under the arms because even in late October, Las Vegas is too hot to be walking outside dressed like that.

So, I slipped off to the bathroom via a side door. When I returned, the hallway in front of the door was empty and only the soft music of the background track echoed in the hall. I opened the door to sneak back to my seat unseen. As I stepped into the ballroom, a spotlight flashed on and lit me up like a little pink Christmas tree, then the music began – Blue Suede Shoes I think. My face flushed a bright red and my eyes dropped to my white legs and black shoes.

elvis impersonatorThey had been expecting an Elvis Impersonator, and instead two hundred or so sets of eyes stared and laughed at my small, startled figure. I could have died right there, but I gamely walked to my seat and sat down. My husband filled in the Elvis details as I tried to regain some sense of honor. I will always remember the panic that gripped my chest and forced the breath from my lungs when the spotlight hit me. I think today I could have managed a little soft shoe and a flourished “ta-da!” ta-da (1)

It’s Embarrassing

The Power of Words

Words have power. The ability to transcribe stories and knowledge into words transformed our ancestors into the human beings we are today. Words educate, influence, enslave and heal. That’s why it is such a tragedy when words are misused. Lately the word ‘Great’ has been abused and rendered a mockery by the political operatives in our federal government. So, as a public service, I’m offering alternative words.

At the risk of sounding elitist, Roget’s International Thesaurus, a book you should have learned how to use in high school English class, has 278 synonyms for the word Great. Knocking the count down for a few overlaps, there are at least 270 other words besides Great to use to help your reader or listener understand meaning.  If books aren’t your thing, thesaurus.com has 136 alternatives.

Slang words like: dandy, marvy, crackerjack, stunning, and serious words like: important, consequential, momentous, significant, considerable and substantial, all do more to help us understand what you are trying to say. Using one word to describe everything is like using one crayon to color. The world is much richer when we use the whole of a language to communicate.

So, the next time some high minded big-wig throws out a corker of a word gaffe, you can snort at their colossal failure in using American English.

The Power of Words