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View Full Version : Writers Of Color And Expectations Or" Why Are You Writing THAT?"



Kitty27
12-29-2011, 12:53 AM
Being Black,it is almost expected that I should write urban fiction and/or erotica.

Neither appeals to me. At all.
I write horror,science fiction,urban&epic fantasy,paranormal romance,young adult and when I really get high on my own hype,dabble in literary erotica.

But these genres aren't expected of Black writers. We are assigned to categories such as the following:

A)Literary Fiction such as Toni Morrison.

B)Men have skull dragged my ass through life and I HATE them such as Terri McMillan.

C)I've fallen in the hood and can't get up genre that is urban fiction.

D) Sex,Sex,and MORE sex such as Zane.

E) The dreaded "issues" book.

Now there are excellent examples of writing in all of these genres. E. Lynn Harris stunned the publishing industry with his success. Terri McMillan proved that Blacks do read. Sister Souljah's "The Coldest Winter Ever" is a hood classic.

But being a writer who writes something completely different garners accusations of "White folks only write that" or "Girl,are you crazy?"

I write what speaks to me the most. I wonder if it's similar for other writers. Do any of you find that when you mention what you write,strange looks and odd comments follow?

Jcomp
12-29-2011, 01:07 AM
For me personally, the "stigma" of horror tends to generate "why would you write that" reactions more than the fact that it's not a genre black writers are traditionally known for / expected to write. That and the fact that my personality is pretty upbeat and I'm regularly making jokes, so people don't anticipate I'd write such grim material.

Most people who get to know me, friends and acquaintances alike, know that I deviate somewhat from expectations of "typical black dude" (whatever those may be) as is, so the fact that I'd write something outside of the "norm" isn't too surprising to them.

Kitty27
12-29-2011, 01:14 AM
For me personally, the "stigma" of horror tends to generate "why would you write that" reactions more than the fact that it's not a genre black writers are traditionally known for / expected to write. That and the fact that my personality is pretty upbeat and I'm regularly making jokes, so people don't anticipate I'd write such grim material.

Most people who get to know me, friends and acquaintances alike, know that I deviate somewhat from expectations of "typical black dude" (whatever those may be) as is, so the fact that I'd write something outside of the "norm" isn't too surprising to them.


I'm a pretty odd Black chick,lol. I'm Gothic and that seems to be somewhat rare. It doesn't surprise my family that I write crazy things. But I've seen double takes both online and in writers groups when I mention my genres.

missesdash
12-29-2011, 01:17 AM
I've noticed a lot of people expect Indian (south asian) writers to write super literary and high brown type things. Same for middle eastern writers, I think. If your name sounds "very exotic" to the western ear, you must offer profound, illuminating prose.

I have a blog where I tend to write long posts on very philosophical and political topics. I also like really subversive and mature themes. So I've definitely had a lot of my followers ask me why I write YA. But once I explained it to them, I think they got it. And now they're just excited to see what kind of YA is written by someone like me.

I think it's very apparent (to people who know me) that in the list of thing I identify as, my race/ethnicity is very far down. So I don't feel that pressure to write "black" books because no one expects me to.

Silver-Midnight
12-29-2011, 01:29 AM
Well, I writer erotica honestly. However, I wouldn't call it "Zane erotica". I typically write interracial romance erotica or erotic romance. However, you want to say, but I think you understand. I haven't really gotten any "Why are you writing that?" looks yet, mostly because I've told very few people what I write. I do get the "You don't seem like the type" statements though, if that means anything.

I don't write urban fiction. It's not for me. If you write it, good for you. Be the best urban fiction writer you can be.

However, some of the other genres(romance, horror, etc.) you mentioned I'm trying to learn to mix those in with my pieces. For example, it won't just be horror or erotica, it'll be erotic horror or so on. I really want to try to dabble in other genres of writing and really explore them, excluding hood/urban fiction no offense to Zane. Sistah Souljah or anyone else for that matter. Like I said, not for me.

Jcomp
12-29-2011, 01:30 AM
I'm a pretty odd Black chick,lol. I'm Gothic and that seems to be somewhat rare. It doesn't surprise my family that I write crazy things. But I've seen double takes both online and in writers groups when I mention my genres.

Interesting. I wonder if the being a black woman specifically has more of an impact on the perception of what people expect you to write. Most of the authors you mentioned in your OP are female. I think, among black novelists, the most prominent figures in popular fiction have been female in the past couple of decades. And the most famous of these authors have inadvertently defined, in the public mind, what black women are "supposed" to write. So many people, regardless of race, are familiar with the works of Toni Morrison and Terri McMillan. Maybe that has something to do with it as well?

nighttimer
12-29-2011, 01:44 AM
I'm a music fan, used to DJ parties and have a basement full of great records. My tastes are eclectic and as much as I love my old school soul and cool jazz, I don't stay in my lane when it comes to what I like.

I love Korn, Ministry, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails and Rob Zombie. I'm not a big fan of Slayer, but I've listened to a lot of their music. Whenever I'm on the road, I must play Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam."

Sometimes I like it loud even if my hair and beard are streaked with grey.

Creative people (and writers fit that category) should never be shackled by convention and the expectations of others on what you should or should not be doing. The first sign of artistic stagnation and death is cranking out stuff that is easy and expected. You might as well be working at a McDonald's dropping french fries if you're just going to hawk product.

Don't stay in the lines. Draw outside the lines and live out loud. Make art, not product.

Silver-Midnight
12-29-2011, 01:45 AM
Creative people (and writers fit that category) should never be shackled by convention and the expectations of others on what you should or should not be doing. The first sign of artistic stagnation and death is cranking out stuff that is easy and expected. You might as well be working at a McDonald's dropping french fries if you're just going to hawk product.

Don't stay in the lines. Draw outside the lines and live out loud. Make art, not product.

This.

Kitty27
12-29-2011, 02:33 AM
Interesting. I wonder if the being a black woman specifically has more of an impact on the perception of what people expect you to write. Most of the authors you mentioned in your OP are female. I think, among black novelists, the most prominent figures in popular fiction have been female in the past couple of decades. And the most famous of these authors have inadvertently defined, in the public mind, what black women are "supposed" to write. So many people, regardless of race, are familiar with the works of Toni Morrison and Terri McMillan. Maybe that has something to do with it as well?

I never thought of that,Jcomp! That puts a new perspective on the reactions I receive from folks.

Kitty27
12-29-2011, 02:34 AM
I'm a music fan, used to DJ parties and have a basement full of great records. My tastes are eclectic and as much as I love my old school soul and cool jazz, I don't stay in my lane when it comes to what I like.

I love Korn, Ministry, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails and Rob Zombie. I'm not a big fan of Slayer, but I've listened to a lot of their music. Whenever I'm on the road, I must play Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam."

Sometimes I like it loud even if my hair and beard are streaked with grey.

Creative people (and writers fit that category) should never be shackled by convention and the expectations of others on what you should or should not be doing. The first sign of artistic stagnation and death is cranking out stuff that is easy and expected. You might as well be working at a McDonald's dropping french fries if you're just going to hawk product.

Don't stay in the lines. Draw outside the lines and live out loud. Make art, not product.


And let the church say AMEN!

Thanks for the responses,guys. I'm going to be as weird as i wanna,lol.

kuwisdelu
12-29-2011, 02:40 AM
As an Indian (feather, not dot) it's less expectations of what I should be writing than people saying how great and interesting it must be to have all that Indian stuff to write about, which comes back to that "responsibility" thread we had. Sure, I'd like to write about that, too, but a lot of my ideas just don't swing that way. And when I do write about it, it's going to be more from the perspective of a half-breed, a kind of cultural refugee, rather than a "real" Indian. Because I don't know what that's like.

thebloodfiend
12-29-2011, 02:50 AM
Ditto what kuwisdelu said. It's not so much expectations, but responsibility. I've gotten the "why do you write YA" look from my parents. I ignore them. I've also gotten the "why don't you write about black people and their problems" speech multiple times.

I don't feel any duty towards writing for my race. I will, however, make my books as diverse as I possibly can. But not because someone guilt trips into doing so.

Jcomp
12-29-2011, 02:55 AM
And let the church say AMEN!

Thanks for the responses,guys. I'm going to be as weird as i wanna,lol.

Interesting choice of words. In recent decades, black folks aren't really seen as capable of weirdness. A few music artists--the spaced-out funk bands in the 70's, Andre 3000 and Nikki Minaj to some extent currently--were able to achieve mainstream success while engaging in weirdness, surrealism or absurdity, but that generally isn't seen as a realm black people readily enter, at least not when it comes to popular entertainment. And, of course, "weird fiction" is a part of the spec-fic tree.

It also makes me think of the stereotypes placed on women, as well. Women are generally seen as being more mature and serious, and less inclined to entertain "weirdness" in general. Guys are given more of a pass on liking "weird" stuff. I think people make unfortunate presumptions then, about how a black woman isn't supposed to write about (much less be about) the myriad cool things that others consider "weird."

Polenth
12-29-2011, 03:00 AM
People don't usually know how to classify my race, so they don't have expectations of what I'd write in the genre sense.

But they do sometimes search my fiction for an answer... it's assumed any character of a light brown persuasion must be the same race as me. And sometimes darker or lighter characters get lightened/darkened so they match me. It's though people expect that I can only write about people who look just like me.

escritora
12-29-2011, 03:12 AM
Besides my immediate family, no one cares or asks about my writing.

Off topic: Polenth, when I don't know what a poster looks like, they are faceless in my mind. For some reason, I always imagine you as a real mushroom who sits at the computer with Mickey Mouse white gloved hands.

Silver-Midnight
12-29-2011, 04:10 AM
I'm going to be honest and say that I write about the character I write because I want to, not because I feel I have to. I like writing about interracial relationships. I like the characters I have: black, white, Asian, etc., not because of their race but because I find them to be an entertaining character.

Polenth
12-29-2011, 04:15 AM
Off topic: Polenth, when I don't know what a poster looks like, they are faceless in my mind. For some reason, I always imagine you as a real mushroom who sits at the computer with Mickey Mouse white gloved hands.

Of course not. My gloves are blue.

There is a headshot on my website, but I don't like using real photos as avatars. Partly because of the negative reactions, but also because I think the mushroom says more about me. People can find out what I look like after they know a bit about me.

Jehhillenberg
12-29-2011, 04:51 AM
I like writing about interracial relationships.

Yep, same here.

I guess I don't get the "Why are you writing THAT?" question from ppl IRL because only certain friends know that I write stories/novels and such. And they know me...and sorta understand my interests.

nighttimer
01-04-2012, 09:55 AM
Interesting choice of words. In recent decades, black folks aren't really seen as capable of weirdness. A few music artists--the spaced-out funk bands in the 70's, Andre 3000 and Nikki Minaj to some extent currently--were able to achieve mainstream success while engaging in weirdness, surrealism or absurdity, but that generally isn't seen as a realm black people readily enter, at least not when it comes to popular entertainment. And, of course, "weird fiction" is a part of the spec-fic tree.

Could I interest you in some Miles Davis post-Bitches Brew albums or Funkadelic's Maggot Brain (http://nikkigphd.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/funkadelic-maggotbrain.jpg)?

How about some Betty Davis? A little Sun Ra (http://fusionanomaly.net/sunraspaceistheplacemusicofyourself.jpg)? Hell, Jimi Hendrix was a pretty weird brother. It gets no weirder. Weird is good as long as it's not dangerous.

We can get w-e-i-r-d up in this mug. Ain't no thing but a chicken wing. :e2dance:

Medievalist
01-04-2012, 10:09 AM
Don't stay in the lines. Draw outside the lines and live out loud. Make art, not product.

I think also it's good for us to deliberately move out of our comfort zones, too.

maxmordon
01-15-2012, 12:43 AM
I feel somehow this has inhibited my writing in Spanish. I tend to get the feeling that it's just idle bourgeois crap when some writing should be done on real things that affect the people of Latin America in real life, you know, the literature version of cinema verité and not my SFF nonsense that feels so very childish and unimportant next to it.

Malia
01-15-2012, 07:00 AM
I feel somehow this has inhibited my writing in Spanish. I tend to get the feeling that it's just idle bourgeois crap when some writing should be done on real things that affect the people of Latin America in real life, you know, the literature version of cinema verité and not my SFF nonsense that feels so very childish and unimportant next to it.

This, exactly this.

I once told a teacher that I wanted to be a novelist. She replied, "Oh, the next Toni Morrison, huh?" I told her no, I was not planning on being the next Toni Morrison because as far as I was aware, Toni Morrison did not write fantasy (magic realism, maybe, but that's another post, ;D). The teacher looked disappointed that I could express an interest in writing such fluff.

But I've caught myself entertaining such expectations, sometimes, because I feel that as a black writer, Issues are inescapable and need to be addressed or else I'm not being honest to either myself or my audience. I have to remind myself to, as nighttimer so aptly commented,


Make art, not product.

I am honestly not interested in writing Issues!fic. I want to tell stories, not perform morality plays. I want to create mirrors - stories that I could have read when I was younger, that would have helped me to realize sooner that I am not an Issue simply because of my skin colour - I am an individual. I, too, can be a hero.

Silver-Midnight
01-15-2012, 08:08 AM
This, exactly this.

I once told a teacher that I wanted to be a novelist. She replied, "Oh, the next Toni Morrison, huh?" I told her no, I was not planning on being the next Toni Morrison because as far as I was aware, Toni Morrison did not write fantasy (magic realism, maybe, but that's another post, ;D). The teacher looked disappointed that I could express an interest in writing such fluff.

I have a question. Why is is always Toni Morrison? I mean I know she's a good writer and all. But why her? There are a lot of black female writers out there.

(Somewhat ironically, one of professors for English wasn't that fond of Ms. Morrison's latest works. :roll: What she said was quite entertaining, and I wish I could remember all of what she said.)

Malia
01-15-2012, 05:37 PM
I have a question. Why is is always Toni Morrison? I mean I know she's a good writer and all. But why her? There are a lot of black female writers out there.

I've kind of wondered that as well - I've heard the "like Toni Morrison" reaction, directed at myself and others, more than once. This is speculation on my part... but I wonder if Toni Morrison is simply one of the better known major contemporary black female novelists. When I was younger, she was certainly one of the only black female novelists of whom I was aware (for example, I didn't know that The Color Purple was a novel until I was in high school and I didn't discover Gloria Naylor until I was in college).


(Somewhat ironically, one of professors for English wasn't that fond of Ms. Morrison's latest works. :roll: What she said was quite entertaining, and I wish I could remember all of what she said.)

I once read a screed against Toni Morrison's A Mercy in which the author said that the novel was aptly titled - it's brevity was a mercy. Which made me sad because I actually liked that book, xD

Kitty27
01-15-2012, 11:08 PM
Toni Morrison is the best known Black female writer of this era. With Black female writers,it's automatic that we are asked if we want to be like her,lol. I don't get offended at the comparison because I think Ms.Morrison stunts like mad and I grew up reading her books.

But I am not the least bit interested in writing literary fiction. I'm a horror writer first and my other genres come afterwards. I'm more on some Clive Barker/LA Banks(RIP) stuff.

Silver-Midnight
01-16-2012, 12:39 AM
I wasn't personally saying anything against her. I was just wondering why was it always Toni Morrison. I mean I'm sure she has good books. (I haven't read any of her books; I've only read one of her short stories, and that was pretty good). However, I just don't want to write literary fiction myself. I want to write Urban Fantasy with a hint of Romance or even just Romance.

Malia
01-16-2012, 06:00 AM
Eeek, indeed, literary fiction. I know exactly what you both mean, Kitty27 and Silver-Midnight. I'm fine with lit fic in small doses but goodness, don't expect me to write it (when there is HORROR and FANTASY and ADVENTURE to be written about, 8D).

bickazer
01-17-2012, 09:38 PM
Heh, I've had this problem too. People expecting me to write literary stories about the ~immigrant experience~ or whatever (first of all, I'm not an immigrant; my parents are). For a while I even entertained using a "white"-sounding pseudonym, but...nah, I want to see my own name on the covers of the books I publish.

Thankfully, these days there's been quite a few Chinese-American YA authors who have made it big writing SF/Fantasy novels, so at least I have precedent. Now, I don't really feel that my ethnicity is a handicap to writing the stories I want to write (if this makes sense...).

BelltdieKatze
06-25-2012, 05:56 PM
I'm an Indian, the eastern type, and I've been brought up on western novels, western classics and the like. Mostly because Indian writing has always been highbrow literary fiction or non-fiction(issue fic). And it was rare. Now, with the advent of a certain 'Chetan Bhagat', a lot of novels by Indian writers, in almost every genre, are getting published and it's causing a lot of people to genuinely ask why I don't write fiction like his, about Indians, in India. The truth is, I'm stuck between writing about characters and places in my imagination, places I've never even been to, where most people are white, and the places I live and study in, where most people aren't. I used to unconsciously move away from my roots, now I'm consciously moving towards them.

Am I making any sense at all? I used to want to show people I don't have to write about people around me, especially since I write fantasy. But I now I do want to write what I know about, since most people just don't relate.

Rachel Udin
07-05-2012, 05:59 AM
Heh, I've had this problem too. People expecting me to write literary stories about the ~immigrant experience~ or whatever (first of all, I'm not an immigrant; my parents are). For a while I even entertained using a "white"-sounding pseudonym, but...nah, I want to see my own name on the covers of the books I publish.

Thankfully, these days there's been quite a few Chinese-American YA authors who have made it big writing SF/Fantasy novels, so at least I have precedent. Now, I don't really feel that my ethnicity is a handicap to writing the stories I want to write (if this makes sense...).
I was told because I'm Asian, surely that's why I'm writing an Asian book. Uh-huh. Yep, the whole continent of Asia--clearly I don't have to do research for that. Just being born into a continent means you know everything about it and don't need to do research. <-- Note the heavy sarcasm.

But whatcha know, I managed to finish a story about a bunch of Jews, Turkish guy and has a white kid and two blacks. What's the excuse then? (The story just called for it that way.)

I have diversity in my stories, just because I want to reflect the real world, no matter what genre I write. And I'll write whatever I please trying to get it as accurate as possible.

The real world is beautiful because of its diversity--otherwise it would be boring to write about.

writeaway
07-13-2012, 02:16 AM
I must say I was surprised that so many of you are writing science fiction.

zahra
07-15-2012, 04:56 PM
When I was chosen for a paid TV writers' internship a few years ago, there was much interest that a female black person was writing crime drama.

Now I write horror and while people who know me are not in the least surprised, others are. I do consciously put black and Asian characters in my novels, because they're in London life and I like to see their faces in front of me in my cast of characters, and I'm tired of reading horror with no ethnic diversity and don't get me started on Stephen 'Mystic Negro' King. (Though I do love his stuff otherwise).