Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Writing fiction while recognizing the impact of race and culture

with 2 comments

The New Yorker has has a very good account by Junot Diaz of the problem with many MFA programs: working totally from the viewpoint of a white person of privilege, with no understanding of real issues (and thus subjects of fiction) of race and non-white culture. It’s strange: Frank O’Connor, a truly excellent writer, talked about how short stories become most vivid when they give voiced to a submerged population, a group whose voice is otherwise ignored. For Frank O’Connor that was the Irish and particularly the poor Irish. J.F. Powers wrote stories giving voice to nuns, monks, and priests who struggled with feelings ignored by the church hierarchy.

Worth reading, if you’re interested in serious fiction.

I will mention in passing that I was in the University of Iowa Writers Workshop for a while, and I similarly had the naive idea that the MFA program would be nurturing and supportive. That one wasn’t, not at the time. At least not for me.

Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2014 at 7:42 am

Posted in Books, Education, Writing

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for pointing out this column. It’s a great read.



    4 May 2014 at 8:08 am

  2. You’re welcome. It was particularly interesting because The Wife and I were talking about how some will condemn a writer for using characters of a sex or race or cultural background different from the writer’s, which strikes me as insane: good writers are good observers and sensitive to human interactions and also have good imaginations. There is no reason to demand they restrict their fiction to being about people who are alter-egos of the writer.

    The question becomes more pointed when the writer does not merely depict characters and actions (something that is no problem at all when writing from an objective point of view—cf. Dashiell Hammett”s novel Red Harvest or much of Hemingway) but has a narrator who is of a sex, race, class, or culture to which the writer does not belong. I do recognize that as being more challenging, but I also see that it is clearly something one can do in fiction, to be judged on the success of the fiction. (How else could one have a narrator of a historical novel, like the Robert Graves novel I, Claudius?)

    I see the point of the column as being that ignorance is a bad thing in a person or program, and the current make-up of the faculty and focus of many MFA programs is too narrow, failing to embrace or even understand points of view remote from an upper-middle-class white faculty who have upper-middle-class white backgrounds. A greater range is needed among the faculty to support a greater range among the fiction studied and developed.



    4 May 2014 at 8:24 am

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