Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing Multicultural Novels

Stacy and me at LTUE
Stacylwhitman, editorial director of Tu books, an imprint of Lee and Low, gave a very enlightening presentation on writing multicultural novels at LTUE in February. Here are some highlights of her presentation:

  • Who gets to write what? 
  • Who actually reads multicultural books?
Recommendations of books to read:
Liar, Justine Larbalestier
Magic Under Glass
Wolf Mark

  • CCB Children's Book Council
  • Alvina Ling, Little Brown
  • Diversity committee
  • Oyate.org
  • This American Life (radio show)

Different types of multicultural writer's:
  • Invador—Arrive without warning. Take what ever they want. destroy. Stay. 
  • Tourist: Nusance, pay way, can be accommodated. May be intelligent but ignorant, but can learn.
  • Guest—relationships can become long term and reciprocal. 
  • Native—Someone who is part of that culture
Examples of what not to do:
The Dear America Series: My Heart is on the Ground
The Wizard of Earthsea, "Whitewashing"

Cultural institutions

Questions to ask yourself as you're writing:
Surface—food, clothing,
Deep culture—family interaction
       Whom are people loyal to? individualists or collectivists?
       Who are people responsible for?
       Who gets respects? (chief status? scribe status? Being vs. doing? Best player at sports? or age that  gives you status?
       How do we ensure fairness?
       Converstation vs. emotions? emotions nuetral or expressive?
       Who is in control? Outer vs. inner? You, fate, God?
       What time is it? Time is absolute verses flexible
       Guilt vs. shame?
       Men and women (separate or similar?)
       Am I in your space? (work, personal life, space)
       Shall we look forward or back?

I had a wonderful sushi lunch with Stacy and other writers, and she is considering one of my novels. I decided after talking with her and listening to her presentation that rather than setting my novel in a real historical place in Africa, I would simply base it on a certain culture and time period and make it an imaginary place. If you've written a YA or MG multicultural fantasy novel, Stacy would be a great editor to send it to.


  1. Oh, this is an excellent list of things to consider. My last published book and it's sequel are set in an imaginary world, but there are several differnt cultures that encompass different traits and ways of life, and asking myself these questions is a really good way to get a grip on some things for this second book as I work on it. Thank you!!

  2. You're welcome. Glad this post helped. Your books sound interesting. I will have to check them out.

  3. Great list. I can't wait till A-Z is over so I can spend more time on blogs like yours. So many blog hops, so little time.

  4. Wow. Sounds like a really thought-provoking presentation. And great that it inspired some ideas for you, too!

  5. Just so you know, This American Life isn't a book, it's the radio program, but it turns out they retracted the Shenzen episode everyone was talking about in February. But they've got a great episode up online (on the NPR site) that goes into detail on that whole thing. Also, Liar is by Justine Larbalestier. (It's a mouthful and hard to catch the first time!) Glad the presentation was helpful to you!

    1. Thanks for the clarifications. I've made those corrections. I should have researched everything like I usually do before posing it, I was just behind and got lazy and I couldn't find the handout. Sorry, my bad!

  6. Great points to consider! I'm going to be launching my first serialized story on the web in a couple of weeks, and I'm keeping each of these points in mind as I write. Stacey is great, and that's fantastic that she's considering your novel.

    P.S. Long live This American Life!

    1. Thanks Jess. Nice to hear from you.

  7. Great post. I was at the same class and I learned a lot. I hope to approach Stacie when one of my store is a little more prepared.

    1. I remember seeing you. I hope you send your story to Stacy and that she loves it. I know what a great writer you are!

  8. This is such a GREAT post, and I'll be coming back again and again! My current wip has two characters that are different races than I, and my goal is to be a guest, not a tourist and definitely not an invader. Thanks for rounding up all these points. So helpful!

    1. Glad you liked the post Daisy. Good luck with your WIP and characters!