Diverse literature: How can we read authentically?


Two summers ago, I discovered a new writer: Shappi Khorsandi, the Iranian-born author of the hilarious memoir A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English. I was pretty proud that I was reading someone not many people had heard of. I was even more proud that she was Iranian, in the same way that a seasoned traveler is proud to “discover” Doha or the Caucasus.

I quickly realized my folly and resolved to enjoy Khorsandi’s writing purely on its own merit, not for any adventurousness it might represent on my part, but I didn’t realize the full danger of that mindset until quite recently. This year, a book club at my school is taking part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, celebrating a broader spectrum of voices. In the process, I discovered Jabeen Akhtar’s splendidly candid essay “Why Am I Brown? South Asian Fiction and Pandering to Western Audiences”, from the Los Angeles Review of Books. It summarized a lot of assumptions I’ve made about diverse literature, and it gave me a lot of good things to think over — not just in my reading choices, but also in how I write diverse characters.

In response, Aarti from Book Lust wrote a reflection on how we can “read diversely AND authentically”, exploring new sources and realms of fiction while demanding a broader range of international viewpoints from American publishers. If you get a chance, look over one or both of these essays — they’re well written and worth your time. And if you’re looking for your next good read, I can definitely recommend Khorsandi.


Photo credit: jingobah on Pixabay.


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