by Lucy Zhang, jaBlog! Blogger
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
Diversity has become fairly prevalent in many areas of the world, a far cry from what nations were like just a few decades ago. But when you think about all the authors that you’ve read, how many of them are Anglo-American? It’s not something you think about often; after all, the stories themselves are so seemingly different, one would think that race doesn’t really matter.
But just like female and male writers can create different works, writers of different races, cultures, and languages often focus on different topics as well. For example, have you ever read any Japanese books? I’ve only read two (No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, a very well known novel, and The Box Man by Kobo Abe), and I can say for sure that the content and writing style are so completely different from anything else I’ve read.
I’m sure that many students have read works by African-American writers, especially in school. Popular books include The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. However, a reader would be quick to notice that the school-assigned books by African-American writers all address (in some way) issues of race and society. In fact, even lists of must-read African-American written books focus primarily on social issues pertaining to race and/or gender.
While I do not condemn writing about issues significant to race, I find it wrong that the books written by authors who are not Anglo-American must address some serious and realistic issue of social injustice in order to be worthy of literary merit. In fact, the only books by African-American writers that I have read were the ones assigned in school. Can black people write the same kind of YA, romance, action, mystery and horror novels that white people do? Surely the answer is yes, but when I attempt to think of one of these novels off the top of my head, I am left grasping for a title that simply does not exist in my mind.
Ok. Perhaps it is me. Perhaps I am a narrow reader who only picks up what is popular and what has been reviewed several hundred times on Goodreads or recommended by the New York Times. But then the same can be said of the majority of readers.
It is not as though reading works primarily by one race of people is bad. After all, one race of writers is not a collective; it is formed by individuals moulded by specific and different circumstances. On the other hand, one race of writers collectively possesses a certain set of broad and general experiences that another race does not.
To be very clear, works by authors who are not Anglo-American are different. Not different in the sense of racism or stereotyping, but different in the sense of variation of culture and sets of experiences. It is important to read such works because they are critical to our own development of thinking.
Thus, I pose the challenge to all avid readers: try to go a month or two without reading any books by Anglo-American authors. See what you learn, experience and absorb. Even if the books deviate too much from your comfort and enjoyment zone, at the very least the experience will be worthwhile.