The other night, I had an interesting conversation with a friend. She’s an aspiring writer and doing research on books where the story is written by an Asian author but doesn’t have Asian characters.
We were meeting for drinks because it’s been a while and she mentioned wanting some recommendations. “I want to write a book where the main characters aren’t Asian.”
I wasn’t surprised by her response but I did wonder why. There’s so many books coming out right now discussing the struggle of being a person of color in America and in the world. But she was pretty clear. She didn’t want to write a book for the sake of her race, she wanted to write a book for the sake of telling a good story.
It’s not uncommon that people of color write stories that don’t speak directly to diversity. People write the characters and the stories that inspire them. It doesn’t have to be about race. And perhaps a lot of POC writers feel pigeonholed to write about their experiences; that books need to be all about diversity and how much of a struggle life is.
But not everything in life is a struggle. Sometimes it’s a beautiful moment in time and those stories are just as worthy a read as any other.
And the truth is that sometimes when we highlight diverse stories we end up burying the simple fact that we are all people and we all have lives to live. So why choose to write about diverse themes?
I think it’s because everyone can write about anything. There’s something more intense in a diverse story because it’s bringing up topics that people tend to ignore. We don’t talk about race and how people in this or any country are treated. We know we’re not racist but that’s the extent of our knowledge. It’s not about educating the masses, but sharing the stories that don’t get told.
Our conversation went on and she described how isolating and lonely her childhood was being Asian and growing up in a predominately White town. I knew exactly how she felt and how torn you are between who you are and who you’re around.
I understood exactly where she’s coming from and how rehashing those memories for the sake of a story didn’t feel like the best use of her time. She could be writing anything because anything is possible. I sometimes feel like the themes of my stories need to be about being Asian, but I’m more than my race and I’ve got more to write about than being Asian.
We all live similar enough lives to connect with anyone and a story written by a person of color that isn’t about being that race is recognizably still good writing. Perhaps writing a story where the emphasis is not on being diverse will help readers see that we’re not so different.
We are all writers here. We all have stories to tell and some stories are much more relatable than others. So write your stories and come up with ways to rewrite all the genres. Make the stories your own and don’t feel pressured into writing a diverse story.
Write what you want. People recognize a good story no matter what the subject.
Here’s some authors who were able to reach beyond diversity:
- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
- To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
- The Mothers by Brit Bennett