David Bowles Profile picture
Feb 1, 2018 28 tweets 11 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
1/ A thread on #ownvoices and #representation as well as allyship, guests, holding babies, writing the other, and assorted issues dealing with POC characters/stories being written by white folks. Nothing super new, just bringing nuanced notions together, reflecting on my views.
2/ America desperately needs a LOT more #ownvoices books. That should be our priority. I've even advocated for a sort of #affirmativeAction in publishing. Agents and editors should be ACTIVELY seeking out POC talent, recruiting, nurturing, publishing.
3/ Especially in kids lit. Only 25% of books for kids feature protags of color. Only 6% are actually written by authors of color. Both of those numbers MUST CHANGE, but the second is the biggest problem. Writers of color need to be the main folks writing these stories.
4/ Within that 6%, some groups are in worse straits. Just 26% of books with Black protags are written by Black authors & 40% with Native protags by Native authors. Contrast: 61% of books with Latinx protags are by Latinx & 89% of books with Asian Pacific protags are by AP folks.
5/ So, yeah, tons of work to be done. However, I still believe there is room at the table for non-POC allies who write POC protagonists really well (though to be honest, this is a pretty high bar).
6/ @NisiShawl once shared Diantha Day Sprouse's three categories of folks who borrow others' culture: invaders, tourists, and guests. "Guests are invited. Their relationships with their hosts can become long-term commitments and are often reciprocal." irosf.com/q/zine/article…
7/ These guests, however, are rare. They tend to be people who are actively engaged in cultural exchange, who spend years of their lives understanding the other culture, allowing it to reshape their souls. They incorporate new beliefs and practices unironically into their lives.
8/ @debreese shared a few years ago James Ransome's explanation for not illustrating books with Native American protagonists: “I haven’t held their babies.” To truly merit the privilege of writing about a community, they must know you well enough to trust you with their kids.
9/ TBH, I can't think of many examples. One guy is Joe Hayes. He moved to Arizona as a kid, lived among Mexican-Americans, picked up Spanish, became deeply involved in the community and its folklore. He retells many of those tales in English & Spanish. Kids (& parents) love him.
10/ Despite the lousy job other wyt dudes have done, I want Joe to have a seat at the table. As a Mexican-American, I know & trust him. I'll let him cradle my nietos (if I become an abuelo) and tell them cuentos (en español). But, yeah, he's an exception to the norm.
11/ If you are not POC and want to be like him, a guest and ally who crafts good representation, that's cool. But, like @brownbookworm said last week at #wi13 you need to do the work. & be willing to listen to your critics (whose help you should enlist ... get a cultural expert)
12/ There's a ton of advice out there on what it means to "do the work." @djolder has a great essay on writing the other and the self, which reminds you that bad/racist rep is also flat-out bad writing, & that you need to understand yourself first: buzzfeed.com/danieljoseolde…
13/ @debreese has done amazing work in this regard, focusing on Native rep. "Good intentions are not enough [....] Book research is not enough. Visits to reservations aren’t enough, either. Real relationships with American Indians are vital [....]" slj.com/2013/11/collec…
13/ More soon. Taco break.
14/ @CynLeitichSmith reminds us, citing a wise bit of advice, that writers wanting to explore another culture should read 100 books by folks of that community. I suspect that most would be deterred if they tried to do so: kirkusreviews.com/features/100-b…
15/ And even well-intentioned cishet wyt writers who attend to these suggestions get it wrong all the time, as @tinytempest so thoroughly explores in her LitReactor piece "Representation Matters" :litreactor.com/columns/repres…
16/ At the end of the day, guys like Joe Hayes are one-in-a-million. Depressingly, I doubt most wyt bandwagon-hopping writers of kid lit are going to invest years of their lives engaging with a new culture and hundred of hours of authentic #ownvoices reading so they're prepared.
17/ I at least hope folks who insist on writing POC protags outside their experience will seriously consider reading WRITING THE OTHER by @NisiShawl & @cynthia_ward (or better yet, attending one of their retreats/ workshops) writingtheother.com
18/ And I sure as hell hope that publishers who insist on publishing non #ownvoices rep enlist the aid of a cultural expert (a "sensitivity reader") to ameliorate the damage they might otherwise do to kids who, as it stands, have hardly any literary mirrors at all.
19/ Given how hard this is to get right, how much even we POC wring our hands about our own adequacy in speaking for our culture, maybe your best bet (hypothetical cishet wyt person) is to rethink the entire idea of writing a protag outside your frame of reference.
20/20 Ask yourself, "Why do I want to do this?" If your answer doesn't center on your longstanding relationship with the community in question, you may end up doing more harm than good. The road to hell, people. The road to hell.
21/ Perhaps, instead, you keep writing what you've been writing, including supporting characters of color in a respectful, reasearched way, & you use your privilege to REACH OUT TO WOC and promote #ownvoices so that publishing is transformed. That's real allyship.
22/ I'll give you two examples. @AdamGidwitz has multiple bestsellers to his name. When he came up with the idea for @unicorn_rescue he could've written all the various cultures and creatures himself. Instead, he found WOC to co-author books with him. That's an ally right there.
23/ The other is @camphalfblood who used his platform to pitch a new imprint to @DisneyHyperion (Rick Riordan Presents) that will be publishing mythic fantasy from WOC like @Roshani_Chokshi and @jencerv . That sort of amplification of #ownvoices is what we really need right now.
24/ Also, as we say in Spanish, OJO (careful): POC can laterally screw this up, too. ANYONE writing protags from another culture can. I'm Mexican-American. Lived most of my life in South Texas. But my dad was navy, so 8 years of my childhood I spent in South Carolina.
25/ 1970s. Not many Latinx. We lived among Black people, mainly. I lived and breathed that Lowcountry culture, listened to Grandmothers' Gullah tales, played with and fell in love with kids from our neighborhoods. But I still only write Mexican-American protagonists.
26/ There's one exception: my story "Huckleberry Juju," which is based on my experiences during those years and is narrated by a fictional version of my older friend Keith. Beyond that, why would I? sites.google.com/a/newmyths.com…
27/27 Only 26% of kids books with Black protagonists are written by Black authors. @DrivenByTatiana has been engaging w/me on this, and they say it well: "If you're so connected to black ppl, then you should know that black ppl can tell their stories better than they can." Amen.

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More from @DavidOBowles

Sep 23, 2018
I've received many variations on this question: "Shouldn't 'chocolate' be 'xocolate'? What happened to that 'X'?"

The short answer is NO. There was never an "x."

Don't feel bad. I was once fooled, too.

Here we go.

Let's head to the 1500s. "Chocolate" enters European languages (via Spanish) as a word describing a drink made from the cacao bean.

In Nahuatl, that bean was called "cacahuatl." Mexican [Americans] may sit up at this point and say, "Uh, wait a minute. Isn't that 'peanut'?" 2/
Sorry, fellow cacahuateros. Yes, Mexican Spanish uses “cacahuate” for peanut, but in Nahuatl that nut was a “tlālcacahuatl” (“earth cacao bean”). Drop its absolutive suffix (-tl) and its root/combining form becomes "cacahua-," whence "cacao" (& "cocoa," its confused variant). 3/
Read 31 tweets
Sep 15, 2018
I often read this question: "Why is Mexico spelled 'México' in Spanish, especially if in Nahuatl Mēxihco was pronounced [me: SHIʔ ko]? What's up with that 'x'?"

The answers given are usually partially right or totally wrong.

Guess what? I'm going to explain it to you. 1/???
For starters, Spanish (& other Romance languages) evolved not from Classical Latin (the erudite, literary language) but from the more streamlined and working-class Vulgar Latin ("vulgar" as in of the "vulgus" or common folk ... not "nasty"). In Iberia, Medieval Spanish arose. 2/
Unlike modern Spanish, Medieval Spanish had sounds like [ž] or /ʒ/ (English "vision" or "azure") and [š] or /ʃ/ (English "ship"), among many others. The name "Jimena," for example, was pronounced [žimena], and "xabón" (soap) was [šabon]. 3/
Read 22 tweets
Sep 14, 2018
Whenever possible, I try to avoid referring to the Nahuas (whether Mexica-Tenochca, Tlaxcalteca, Texcoca, etc.) as "Aztecs." There's good reason for this. They themselves abandoned the name after leaving Aztlan, their legends say. 1/5
Here's how the Codex Chimalpahin narrates the episode: "Auh ca niman oncān ōquincuēpilli in īntōcā in Aztēcah. Ōquimiliuh, 'In āxcān aocmo amotōcā: ye anmexihtin.' Oncān nō ōquinacazpotōniqueh inic ōcuiqueh in īntōcā Mexihtin. Inic āxcān ye mihtoa Mēxihcah." 2/5
"And it was then and there that he [Huitzilopochtli] changed their name from 'Azteca.' He said, "Now your name is no longer Azteca: it is Mexihtin.' There also they dangled feathers from their ears as they took the name Mexihtin. Therefore they are now called Mexica." 3/5
Read 9 tweets

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