What do you think: Cultural literature


I read an article* today about non-Aboriginal writers using Aboriginal characters and Aboriginal themes in their fiction. The article was quite severe in its criticism of non-Aboriginal writers, but I couldn’t ignore writer Melissa Lucashenko’s point: it is inappropriate to write of a culture that is not your own; that the writer’s own prejudices will leak into the pages, and many complex or sensitive issues are usually overlooked or ignored in the process. Does this mean that I can never have Aboriginal, Maori,  Tibetan, Cherokee or Incan characters in my books because I’m Anglo-Irish Australian? This seems a little unreasonable to me, after all, humanity is as diverse as it is considerable. In Australia about 70 indigenous languages are spoken with a further 60 or more non-indigenous languages. How are we to deal with Lucashenko’s  caveat? How will I write about the Northern Territory, where one in every two people is indigenous? What message am I to take away from Lucashenko’s almost hostile treatise? I can’t blame her for being protective of her culture and its laws and my own code of ethics prohibits me from “trespassing” as she puts it, onto other cultures without first doing a lot of primary research. That means seeking permission, seeking advice from Elders and leaders and being mindful of cultural laws. What do you think?

*”Muwi muwi-nyhin, binung goonji: boastful talk and broken ears” by Melissa Lucashenko, in Writing Queensland, Vol 186, Jul 2009

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About Sharon

Writer, bibliophile, dreamer and student of everything
This entry was posted in JOURNAL ENTRY, ME ON WRITING and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What do you think: Cultural literature

  1. vanyieck says:

    I agree with you. Writing about another culture necessitates learning about that culture. Admittedly, writing based on stereotypes and prejudices only perpetuates bigotry. Good writers approach other cultures on their own terms. What they learn and bring to the story can only be seen as a bridge to cultural understanding.

  2. drtombibey says:

    One of my gigs is to play mandolin in my wife’s bluegrass band. (All women except for me) I don’t pretend to understand all their lingo, but I learn a lot by listening. They say for a guy I am just one of the girls.

    Dr. B

  3. I know I can never know another culture as well as the one I was raised in. However, I still think by writing we can try to understand our fellow human beings and the truths that are common to all of us regardless of cultural background.

    Dr. B

    • Dr B,
      I agree – aren’t we all human first and foremost? The human experience is the same no matter where you come from. I accept that there are differences, but I’m human before I’m an Australian, just as we all are. I apply the same rule to all humans.

  4. Joseph says:

    I think it’s true that the writer’s prejudices will leak into the pages but that is also true of men writing of women, women writing of men, or city dwellers writing about country folk. I live in the UK and write about people from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The characters in the novel I’m writing are from Estonia, Finland, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Iran and China. It’s a fact of life in London that you will rub shoulders with people from every nation on earth. But I also spend a lot of time in Europe and these are the people who influence me. In writing about them I am processing those influences and growing creatively and culturally. I may still have prejudices afterwards but I expect to have fewer of them. If a writer’s work is marred by prejudices, that is just bad writing.

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