by Nathan Buckman,
Grub Street Managing Editor
Whether for creative writing or academic writing, writing in another’s voice presents difficulties in voice representation, character design (both physically and emotionally / psychologically), and a host of other dynamic aspects. Creating that authentic feel while maintaining honest character representations (I use character to mean both fictitious persons and persons in real life) introduces that quandary the writer faces, which is why we must maintain a high degree of consciousness.
Combating tendencies to stereotype is imperative if we are to represent the gamut of life.
In 2017, I attended a reading by Roxane Gay at Towson University. She discussed, among other things, her creation of World of Wakanda, a comic book series for Marvel Comics. Gay talked about how she wanted to represent these characters within the comics—how she wanted them to be real, with body types that represented authentic images (i.e., non-photoshopped / plastic surger(ied) / Botox(ed), etc.). Gay’s approach points to an architectonic perspective—that is, our characters must arc beyond the de rigueur, the unimagined, the flat representations. As writers, we should have an acute consciousness when creating / representing characters. Our characters must achieve, and by default we must achieve, a new consciousness.
Instead of relying on stereotypes, we create authentic characters through individual perspectives—characters who embody their aspirations, their fears, their flaws, their wholly realistic and wholly retainable selves.
In 2015, actress Viola Davis’ Emmy award acceptance speech spoke to a new consciousness in writing and acting, in redefining what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be a character of color. Davis’s speech spoke of breaking a line—alluding to the racial divide that Harriet Tubman spoke of when she said: “In my mind I see a line, and over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.”
One of our jobs as writers is to be conscious of the lines weaving through our creations, and if we are honestly representing life, then, these lines are weaving through our society—our cultures as well. We are social critics; we are advocates of positive change. We are line-breakers. Reform in writing leads to reform of consciousness—to the way in which we engage a diverse cast of characters.
“The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” said Davis. I would add that one of the things that separates the underserved, the unprivileged, the en masse from those of the esoteric elite is opportunity. This opportunity can be bridged. Davis thanked a host of writers who broke that line, who bridged that divide between color and creed.
Writers, we are a literary bridge. We are a prism through which to see a diverse world. In our representations, we must extend beyond the trite, the stereotype, the unimagined. We must write our true selves.
The image above is "Flight" by Gillian Collins.