Writing other voices

At NJSCBWI’s summer conference this year, I had the privilege of facilitating a session by Emma Otheguy and Andrea J. Loney, “Writing Marginalized Voices in Children’s Books.”

What a fantastic presentation!

Given the current – and much-needed – focus on #ownvoices, many writers have questions about writing characters that do not resemble themselves. Andrea and Emma had useful, practical, and wonderful advice about writing diverse and marginalized voices.

Perhaps the most practical piece of advice they shared was that #ownvoices writers should do the same things as writers outside their particular community. After all, everyone’s experience is unique. Not all African-American or Latinx writers share the same experiences and backgrounds, just as not all White writers are the same.

The most important piece of advice was to engage with the community you want to write about, especially if you are writing about history or culture that belongs to someone else. You have to do the research, but even the most thorough research has limitations.

“Do you live a diverse life?”

Or are you a tourist, using someone else’s history or culture for your own ends? Your work is less likely to be criticized if you are active and engaged with the specific diversity you write about in a long-term and meaningful way.

Sharing your work is great advice for all writers. Emma and Andrea recommend working with critique partners and sensitivity readers appropriate to the voice you’ve chosen. Ideally, you should share your work with more than one sensitivity reader to gain multiple perspectives.

Finally, above all else:

CONSIDER THE CHILDREN READING YOUR WORK.

Is your work a “clear reflection”? What is a child of the community you write about going to see in your work?

A little tip from me: read widely. Read OUT and read ACROSS. Read as many diverse voices and stories as you can. Make it a habit to choose books that are windows instead of mirrors showing you yourself.

P.S. Check out Andrea and Emma’s books! Such great additions to any children’s library.

 

 

 

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