I’m often asked where I stand on the question of own voices and appropriation. My answer is mostly that it depends.
It depends on how honestly the writer knows her own biases, on how much work she has done to get past them, on the reasons she wants to write a story in the first place, on how she taps not only the significant details of place and custom and viewpoint but also the underlying spirit and soul of the story. And it also depends on whether that story really, really cries out loud to be told.
But who is the judge of that? It’s worth listening to the words of a girl who first read Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner when she was nine years old. Excerpt:
The second I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read the whole trilogy in about…like ten days or something.
Not just that, but this girl, upon meeting the author of the book, demanded to know when it was going to be made into a movie.
And there’s more. Much more, in fact.
When the book did get made into an animated film, this very girl (whose great-great-great grandfather first left Afghanistan for South Africa–a camel was part of that tale) auditioned for and ended up getting cast as the voice of Parvana in the movie.
Clearly, for that one reader, Ellis got it all just right. And that reader, young actor Saara Chaudry, gives voice with all her heart and soul to the character of a book that she says changed her life.
So there you are. It depends.