& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writers & labels

Finding the right voice to write
Are labels important or even relevant for writers?

LGBT, visible minority, Muslim, Asian, Tamil are labels that one often hears to define a writer and her writing; quite often randomly, and unnecessarily. This is stereotyping is often reflexive and on occasions offensive because a writer’s origins and roots are almost always irrelevant to her writing, except in specific genres such as memoirs.

Kanaka Basu reviewing Farzana Doctor’s novels (The Hindu) makes a pertinent observation. “The cover of the second novel grandly announces that Six Metres of Pavement is the recipient of the Lambda Literary Award 2012: Lesbian Fiction, a fact that leaves the reader duly impressed and slightly baffled. Baffled because the novel begins with and moves primarily around the phenomenon of immigrant angst and for the larger part, the lesbian factor is incidental and casually relegated to the sidelines.

Basu goes on to praise Farzana's writing: “This is seriously good writing here, such good writing that it hurts. The prose is punctuated with the most delicious silences, the characters display the most eccentric twirls and loops and the tone of the novel, is never, never quite predictable. Such a breath of fresh air!”

Then, is being a lesbian relevant to writing? Mariko Tamaki, the young Toronto writer, was asked whether it was limiting or liberating to be identified as a lesbian. She said it varied. In her case, she said, she was also identified as an Asian. Mariko read from her novel (You) Set Me on Fire at the Academy of Impossible.

This is an interesting debate and at its root is the issue of voice. A few years ago, at Sheridan College, when I said I had written a short story about an immigrant Muslim family, many in the class felt that I wouldn’t get the voice right because I’m not a Muslim.

Recently, I read Pradeep Solanki’s piece in Descant on the same subject. Solanki says, “The ethics around appropriation of voice is still unresolved, and people feel passionately on both sides of the issue, particularly when the voice involves a minority community...Personally, I don’t believe there can ever be a definitive resolution to this debate. So much of it depends upon the sensitivity of the writer, his research and her skills.”

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