Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Diversity and The Danger of the Single Story

I enjoyed reading the blog archive about the recent Twitter #kidlitchat on diversity, thoughtfully archived by Greg Pincus (www.thehappyaccident.net). Issues raised during the chat included whether or not people should write outside their own cultures or gender or sexual orientation; whether or not awards should be given for books centering on different ethnicities (perhaps because this risks celebrating our differences and perhaps unwittingly creating an "other"); and others asked why there are not more main protagonists of color and/or GLBTQ.

The twitter chat left me thinking how all these questions and opinions are valid if our intentions as writers, agents and publishers are to help create a more tolerant world. A world in which no "single story" is told, to borrow a phrase from TED Talk author Chimamanda Adichie, a writer from Nigeria who grew up reading British and American literature. "Even books that come across as stereotypical have a grain of truth to them, they simply lack the complete picture," Adichie says. One of the stories this writer tells during her TED Talk is about her former professor (presumably Western) who responded as follows after reading a draft of her novel, "This is not authentically African, your characters are just like me. They are educated, middle class and drive cars." She explained that this professor, like many people around the world, have been influenced by a single narrative when it comes to describing individual African nations. To listen to her talk, click on the link below.

Publishers can help create the complete picture by publishing more than one kind of book. I often write stories set in the Middle East and therefore I am keyed into books relating to this part of the world. What I mostly see on the shelves of libraries and bookstores at home and in Europe are stories about martyrs, terrorists and the oppression of women. I recently discussed this with a librarian who looked at me and said flatly, "Well that's how it is over there!" Yet my years of traveling, living and working in several Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries have taught me that this region is not synonymous with strife. Neither is it synonymous with Islam, as there are many living there who follow other religious traditions, or are secular or atheist.

Reza Aslan, internationally renown religion scholar and author of No god, but God, often points out that contrary to what many Americans think, all Muslims do not believe the same thing. In a recent interview on Gulf News.com Reza also cautions about reading certain authors who use their celebrity status to make generalizations about places and religions and therefore create for us all, what Chimamanda Adichie describes as an incomplete "single story." To read Reza's article, visit: (http://gulfnews.com/arts-entertainment/books/islam-s-pulse-in-the-us-1.837480)

To listen to the afore mentioned TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

Diversity clip art from: http://www.fotosearch.com/FSB046/x29936942/

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brazilian Artist Roger Mello Inspired by Kipling

Last month I attended the 9th International Board on Books for Young People Regional Conference held in Fresno, CA. IBBY has seventy-two national sections with a secretariat in Basel, Switzerland. IBBY's newest members include Guatemala, Haiti, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe. It's projects include: The Hans Christian Anderson Awards; the IBBY-Ashai Reading Promotion Award; the IBBY Honor List, the Documentation Center of Books for Young People with Disabilities, the International Children's Book Day, as well as Children in Crisis Programme. If you would like to know more about IBBY check out this link and come join us at a future conference in the US or abroad.

One thing I really enjoy when traveling or working overseas is visiting bookstores to look at children's and adult book covers. It is such a treat to see the different styles, perspectives and mediums that artists from around the world use to convey their ideas. To my delight, the IBBY Conference brought award-winning books from around the world to Fresno so that attendees could leaf through some of the world's best literature for young people.

Roger Mello, an illustrator from Brazil spoke at this conference. His picture books have been published in many countries except the US and UK. He has been nominated more than once for the Hans Christian Anderson Award. Since he has no US publisher, Roger kindly packed a suitcase full of one of his wordless picture books Selvagem and I was lucky enough to get one. I believe it translates as Savage or Safari or perhaps Wild.

Here's an excerpt of an interview with Roger Mello that was featured on FOLHA.com:

Tell a bit about how you got the idea for the book "Wild"?

I saw a photo of a Sumatran tiger in a magazine. The image was striking, as is the tiger tried to communicate with the outside of the photo…There is almost Sumatran tigers in the jungle, this is one of the rarest species of tiger. Drew hundreds of tigers wanting to represent the expression of that tiger. I realized that the drawings turned a narrative sequence, a book…

"The Jungle Book", Kipling, appears at the beginning. This is a special work for you? Why?

I like the way Kipling makes men and animals in India to talk the same language. The boy Mowgli raised by wolves, does not belong to the jungle or belong to the world of men. It is a stranger in your home, as the Kipling, born in India, the son of English parents. Not to mention that in "The Jungle Book", the tiger Shere Khan wanders through the pages, as a threat fascinating.

The book "Wild" has no preface or afterword, no indication of the way. What is the hint that gives the reader?

Let the reader get lost in paths and discover new questions whenever you want. A book without words do not have answers but questions…

To read the rest of the interview please visit www.folha.com

To watch a video interview of Roger Mello visit: http://revistacrescer.globo.com/Revista/Crescer/0,,EMI161144-10536,00.html

Children of all ages, six-months-old to sixty-years-old would enjoy this book. I am surprised no American publisher has snapped up the rights for it, especially since it does not involve translation costs.

Roger's work can also be seen at: http://capaduraemcingapura.blogspot.com/

I hope to see his books on American bookshelves one day.

Monday, November 7, 2011

November Photo Contest

One of the things I enjoy when traveling is finding unique objects, sometimes these items are made for everyday use. The first person to correctly guess the function of this item and the country where I found this will win a signed copy of Anahita’s Woven Riddle. Please leave your guess as a comment on this blog post AND email me at writingandwandering@gmail.com with your answer.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All-American Muslim television premiere

I just learned about this new television show. It premieres on November 13th. I'm looking forward to tuning in! You can friend them on facebook.

For news about other cultural programs having to do with Middle Eastern cultures and Muslim Americans, check out Aslan Media.com

In forthcoming posts I will share what I learned at the recent USBBY conference in Fresno. I will feature artists and writers of international literature.