Writing Updates and Reflections on Writing Outside Your Identity Group

I’m excited to share that at long last, Malice Domestic’s anthology, Murder Most Theatrical, is available for pre-order from Wildside Press and will officially come out on October 1st. My short story, “Missed Cue,” appears in the anthology, and its setting in a dance company reflects my love of the dance world I spent decades in as a longtime professional dancer. I’d love for you to snag a copy and let me know what you think.

Meantime, I spent this past week as a participant on several panels, as well as presenting a workshop at the Imaginarium Virtual Conference and Convention. This is a very cool, eclectic convention with all kinds of writers, filmmakers, and other creative types. It was my first experience presenting at an online conference. Boy, was it different! I loved that despite the pandemic, we got to do the conference, but I really missed the face-to-face interaction—not to mention the hugs.

I did a lot of research, writing, and thinking to prepare for my workshop, “Writing Outside Your Identity Group.”  I discussed the need for more diverse books for young readers and the controversies that have erupted in YA land about who should be telling these stories. I also talked about what’s involved if you want to write outside your identity group.

As many of you know, this issue is personal to me. As an old civil rights worker with non-white grandchildren, I am strongly committed to getting more books into the world that feature characters who look like them. In fact, my forthcoming YA novel, Leisha’s Song, features a young person of color.

In the course of doing my research, I came across a post by fantasy writer A.J. Hartley, “Writing POC While White.” His comments about the reasons he has opted to write outside his identity group really resonated with me. In part, he says, “My impulse to write characters of color is political and stems from the belief that writers have an obligation to reflect the world they live in. People approach that challenge in a variety of ways, but I feel compelled to try in a small way to redress the historical bias which has taken white (and frequently male, and almost always straight) as the default position. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I am committed to giving diverse characters my very best shot, while simultaneously supporting marginalized writers in the telling of their own stories.”

I added the italics at the end of his comments, because just as I believe that all writers must be allowed to create characters that reflect the richness of our diverse world, it’s absolutely imperative that we continue to push for more diversity in who gets published. I was shocked to learn that a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center revealed that in 2017, only seven percent of the children’s books published that year were written by Black, Latino, or Native American authors.  Not okay!

All of us have a responsibility to encourage and support more diverse books by diverse authors. And when we do choose to write outside our identity group, we need to do our best to do the job responsibly, respectfully, and accurately. Next week, I’ll talk about how best to do that—and what to avoid doing. I hope to see you then, and I’d love to get your comments on this all-important issue.



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