An article in the UK Guardian addresses the question of
race ethnicity and literature.The author argues: "Writers from Africa - or anywhere else - should not be required to be 'the voice' of wherever they happen to come from."This is a debate that's happening elsewhere in my reading, for some reason; here, on Very Like A Whale, Nic Sebastian asks, "Does belonging to an oppressed community require that oneâ€™s creative fealty be sworn to that community? What are the moral and spiritual imperatives here?"And when I gave my reading two weeks ago, someone (actually an old and dear poet-friend) remarked that my poetry was not "street". Well, I wondered, why should it be? First, I'm too old for that. When I was growing up, we had art from the "blocks", not the "street". And second, I'm not interested in it. There are more than enough people writing "urban" or "street" stuff just to fit into a mould that they imagine they're supposed to fit into because they come from a particular ethnic group or from a country that features that ethnic group, without even beginning to imagine the politics behind the creation of that mould.Those politics are for another day. But I thought that the article on ethnicity and literature posed an apt question, so go read it. Here's how it ends.
Authenticity should not be synonymous with the current trend or "voice" publishers are desperately trying to find. Surely all writers should be granted the right of imagination and the freedom of individual expression. But these fundamentals have been taken from international and British diaspora writers. In its place is a requirement to "represent" a particular community in which they have roots.A writer's background is just one of many influences fuelling their imaginations. It's not the defining quality, and we should allow writers' imaginations to roam freely around the world.