Department Of The Partridge Of The Week
It’s that time of the year again. As has become a tradition much maligned anticipated in our neighborhood, moiself is hosting a different Partridge, every week, in my front yard. 
Can you identify this week’s guest Partridge?
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And about that fight…. Why am I not ending it? Because the controversies over the issues and principles involved seem to be (still, WTF) lingering in some tight-spirited and fearful minds.
I ran across the sentiments moiself so objects to last week when moiself heard a snippet of a radio interview with some book reviewer. But I was most butt-frostingly reminded of The Fight ® when I recently heard Fresh Air host Terry Gross’s 1993 interview (rebroadcasted 12-14-22) with Octavia Butler, the late great, ground-breaking Black female science fiction author.
Butler, indiscussing how and why she began writing, said she was both trying to get under-represented perspectives a voice (i.e. a voice like hers, as a black female in sci fi), but also she wanted to experience the voice of others:
“…I’ve also explored, and in a strange sense I suppose I also found out, what it might like to be a white male or whatever, you know.
One of the things writing does is allow you to be other people
without actually being locked up for it.”
“We’re talking empathy here, right?”
“Uh hum – yes.”
That should have ended the pitiful controversy right there and then. But it’s been a long time since 1993, and “cultural appropriation,” a concept bandied about in academia in the 1980s, wasn’t so publicly applied to works of literature until after Butler’s death.
In case y’all haven’t figured out the connection between this particular blog’s title and content, the fight I refer to would be that against literary censorship – censorship of the worst kind, the kind that makes an author repress herself before she even writes, when she has an idea for a story/plot/character but fears her work will be for naught as she doesn’t have the right “personal” credentials/identity that the self-appointed Saviors of Literary Ownership Police (appropriately acronym-ed) will deem necessary…and thus they will rake her over the cultural appropriation coals.
Moiself has written about this several times in this space (a few of them cited at the end of this post, before the footnotes), and most extensively in my post, The Culture I’m Not Appropriating, 9-16-16. Since it’s my birthday week  and since the wise words of Ms. Butler inspired me, I shall rerun that post, which was one of my first single-subject rants examination of a thorny issue:
( from The Culture I’m Not Appropriating, 9-16-16. )
Write what you know is, hands down/butts up, the Worst Writing Advice Ever. ® Although I despise the aggravating axiom’s existence, I took some solace in thinking that its influence has been waning….
Golly gosh gee willikers, how I love learning new things: it seems that, like intestinal gas after a vegan-chili-eating contest, that misbegotten maxim keeps resurfacing. It has morphed, and rises anew in the form of the term, cultural appropriation. 
American journalist/novelist Lionel Shriver, who was invited to be the keynote speaker at the recent Brisbane Writers Festival, knotted the knickers of the festival organizers when, as reported in this NY Times article, she  disparaged the movement against cultural appropriation:
Write what you know; do not appropriate the culture/experience of another. This becomes translated as, Write what you are. And what you are becomes defined by someone outside of you – someone who decries cultural, ethnic, class and gender stereotypes even as they want to circumscribe your right to tell stories/craft characters based on their interpretation of your cultural what you know.
Seven years ago I wrote a letter to the editor of Poets & Writers magazine, in response to a Very Long Screed ® letter from a woman who passionately pronounced that writers must write about only those characters and backgrounds from whence they came; that is, you must write about what you know, and what you know is what you are. Screed Woman  commented at length about what a “true artist” may create, and at one point actually declared the following:
“I will not permit folks like _____  to write of my folk, or Mexican folk, or Asian folk, or Native American folk, of folk of color as though they have a right to.”
Screed Writer, without having been asked by other writers, “By the way, what do you think I should write about?” and without having been elected to the Board of Literary Permissions,  not only felt entitled to speak for all of her “folk,” but also for the folk of which she is not-folk – an incredibly diverse and numerous collection of humanity, whose varying and wide-ranging opinions on the issue at hand she discounted, IMHO, by presuming to speak for all folk-of-color.
As I wrote in my reply letter, 
Was I out of the country when _____( Screed Writer) was appointed to the coveted, “True Artist Discerner” position?
….I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but behold: for centuries, a legion of writers, from Shakespeare to Le Guin, have composed tales and created characters without your (or anyone else’s) permission. A pox upon the cheeky bastards!
….All those wasted years, merely loathing Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the story itself when I could have really censured it for being inauthentic: “How dare its author write outside his species!?”
Write what you know. Just think of the awful, intrusive, disrespectful novels penned by those who have ignored that advice.
John Steinbeck, born into middle-class comfort in California and educated at Stanford – what could he know of the struggles and dreams of the destitute Oklahoma migrant farmers he depicted in The Grapes of Wrath? And that Cathy Ames character, the initially charming but ultimately evil and pitiful wife/mother in East of Eden – how could a 1950s, upright male citizen like Steinbeck take the liberty to deduce the machinations of a turn of the century whorehouse madam? 
How dare Rita Mae Brown, a never-married, child-free lesbian with no siblings, presume to know the combination of brass and loneliness of the widowed elderly sisters and mothers whom she featured in her novel Bingo? Not only that, Brown has penned a series of detective novels featuring a cat as a sleuth-like protagonist! The nerve of her, a bipedal homo sapiens, to appropriate the thoughts and actions of a quadrapedal felis catus.
Stephen King had his first great hit with the novel Carrie. He audaciously crafted his shy high school misfit character despite the fact that he, an adult man with no demonstrable psychokinetic abilities who came from a middle-of-the road Protestant background, could not possibly know what it would be like to be a much-bullied adolescent female with telekinetic powers who lived with a batshit-crazy fundamentalist mother.
Alice Walker – well, she can write about her own folk, as long as they are The Color Purple. But as an African American from a rural, Southern, impoverished, Baptist background there’s no way she could know the mind-set and motivations of an idealistic civil rights worker from a Northern, white, Jewish, privileged circumstances…and yet she dared to create just such a character in Meridian.
And don’t even get me started on that uppity Jean Auel, who created the Clan of the Cave Bear books. Auel presumed to tell tales about people who lived and died thousands of years ago – she appropriated cultures that don’t even exist anymore! And what could she, a contemporary middle-aged white woman, possibly know about Cro-magnons and Neanderthals of any age, gender or ethnicity?
Have I belabored this point enough? Because, I could go on, ya know.
Now then. I do not mean to dismiss legitimate concerns re the historical exploitation of the experiences of women and minorities via the platform of fiction. As one Brisbane Writers Festival attendee put it, “The reality is that those from marginalized groups, even today, do not get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and, often, patriarchal.”
I moiself have, in this space and others, ranted commented on the pervasive sexism in the publishing and literary reviewing worlds, wherein, for example, “books about women written by men receive critical acclaim, while books written by women on similar themes and in a similar style are tawdry domestic dramas.”  And a slew of minds more incisive than mine have long noted the disparate praise heaped upon (usually white) men vis-à-vis women and minorities writing on the same subject.
I do mean to dismiss three whole ‘nother kettles of wormy literary fish:
- the idea that there are any “sacred” subjects – including but not limited to culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, politics, socio-economic class, dis/ability – about which writers cannot or should not write;
- the idea that writers may justifiably feel entitled to try to limit the variety of voices other writers employ to comment on any subject;
- two wormy fish kettles of literary nonsense are enough to be dismissed, for now.
Look: you may like a story’s plot and/or characters, or loathe the same – it’s up to each reader. What is not up to any reader, nor the self-blinder-donning, self-appointed Guardians Of Cultural Appropriation,  is to attempt to limit, intimidate or censor the imagination and empathy that writers use to create their stories and characters.
“I often quote myself. It lends spice to my conversation.”
(Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw)
Since I am not one to ignore the example of GB Shaw, I shall end this communique with the end of my afore-mentioned response to the afore-mentioned Screed Writer:
_____ (Screed Writer) writes, with all sincerity and good intentions, I assume, that she would not write a character with certain gender/religious/ethnic attributes because she does “not wish to offend with less than authenticity.” Some might think her intentions polite and perhaps even considerate, but what I look for in a compelling story is not that its author has good manners. Go ahead, dare to “offend” me with “in-authenticity,” Better yet, let me – the reader – decide whether or not I am offended, and whether or not I find your characters authentic. Trust me; I’ve been doing this for years. I’ll be okay.
To the Write What You Know gang: can we end this dreary dialog? Go back to your corners; reflect; meditate; supplicate; read the self-help books and take the mood or perspective-altering medications that will enable you to ignore the evil voices in your head that tell you it is your obligation to shepherd, chaperone, and censor. WWYK-ers and others who deny themselves the “right” to write authentic if “different” characters are welcome to deny themselves – and themselves alone – that right. If, whether out of fear, misguided notions of respect, or any other reason, you do not consider yourself capable of creating authentic characters, then by all means, stifle yourself. Do not write beyond your self-imposed limits, perceptions and capacities, If it makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to write about it if you don’t want to (is this a wonderful world, or what?!), but please consider the following. Throughout the ages, many great writers, painters, and composers have suggested that it is the stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, one’s permitted zone, which is the mark of a “true” artist.
I, for one, am grateful for authors past and present who’ve written out “of the box.” Do not, ever, presume to limit another writer’s capabilities, or be so audacious as to assume you are the granter of people’s right to tell the stories they choose to tell. Gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, class, health status, religion, occupation, political affiliation – all of these authentic, influential and essential qualities ultimately pale in comparison to that most defining human (apologies to science fiction authors) quality: imagination. Write, if you must, only what you think you know, but stop proscribing the imagination of anyone but yourself. My stories will be filled with agnostic, youthful, weak-hearted Southwestern men and with elderly, vigorous, devoutly Pentecostal Asian women; with boldly blasphemous crones, timorous dyslexic adolescents, and someday maybe even a gracious if paranoid Venusian. I’ll continue to write characters who line up with the truth of the story, not those that toe a line drawn in the literary sand by some self-deputized Authenticity Posse.
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Department Of Taking A Break
There; that’s better.
Now, if only I could slap somebody upside the head with a leather-bound copy of the list of challenged, censored and banned book titles as collected by the National Coalition Against Censorship.
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Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week 
“Political parties and ideologies with winning ideas don’t need to ban books. Christian nationalism, however, features inferior ideas
that can’t compete in the modern world without cheating.”
( Marty Essen, author, in his op-ed “Christian Nationalism and book banning,”
Independent Record, 9-16-22 )
* * *
May you refrain from brutally smiting those who would constrain the creativity of others;
May you, upon further reflection, treat such constraints with the scorn they deserve;
May you authentically appropriate the power of imagination;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
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Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
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Teasers from previous posts on this topic, in case you haven’t had enough already and/or are suffering from insomnia:
Department Of Oh Please Not This Again
It is just as well that I’m a writer, not an editor. Were I editing a newspaper or magazine, I might soon be out of a job. For this is an essay in defense of cultural appropriation.
In Canada last month, three editors lost their jobs after making such a defense.
(Kenan Malik, opening lines from, In Defense of Cultural Appropriation )
Excerpt from post The Woman I’m Not Born As, June 23 2017
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I had a story and several poems published in two different literary journals, each of which aspired, as per their “mission statements,” to give voice to the concerns of (the so-labeled) Generation X. Not only were Gen X-ers these respective journals’ target audience, the journals…in their writers’ guidelines stated that writers submitting work must themselves be of the Gen-X age range.
Which I am not.
And yet, my story and poems were chosen for publication….
Although I snorted with derision when I read the afore-mentioned journals’ guidelines, I did have select pieces that I thought would be a good thematic fit for them. I also noted that neither journal requested contributor photos nor dates of birth, and thus had no way of confirming an author’s generational affiliation….
I chose to dishonor the journals’ guidelines by sending them my Gen-X-themed-fiction/poetry-written-by-a-non-Gen-Xer. The editors of the journal which published my story effused in the acceptance letter about how I had captured the particular zeitgeist they sought – about how the tone of my story was “exactly what we are looking for.”….
(excerpt from the acceptance acknowledgement letter I did not send to them):
Gee, thanks – oh, and by the way, that’s the point of being a *fiction* writer. Somehow, miraculously, I was able to *get* the tone without *being* the tone. It’s called craft; skill; experience; imagination; empathy. It’s called creative writing for a reason, you ageist, imaginatively constipated twerps.
( Excerpt from post The Acceptance Letter I’m Not Sending, June 30 2017 )
Department Of More Fun With Writer
Sub-Department Of Yet Another Southern Border Crisis?
….American Dirt, in case you haven’t heard, is a novel about a Mexican woman and her son, the only survivors of their family’s murder by a drug cartel, who flee for their lives and head for the USA-Mexico border. AD was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection (which almost guarantees a bajillion copies sold, plus movie options) and received glowing reviews, including from Latina authors and actors such as Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez and Salma Hayek.…until someone pointed out that the novel about Mexican immigrants was written by a non-Mexican, and the cultural identity police dog-piled on.
The book’s author identifies as white and Latina and has a Puerto Rican grandmother, but that’s not Latina enough for some. Seemingly overnight the book went being reviewed as a captivating story that could “change hearts and transform policies” (Alvarez) to being “racist” and “filled with stereotypes.” Just as quickly, the author went from to literary prodigy to pariah…her publisher even cancelled book tour appearances because of “specific threats to the booksellers and the author.”
(Excerpt from post The Cheese I’m Not Cutting, February 21 2020 )
Department Of Idiocy Makes My Brain Hurt
Sub-Department Of Let’s Just Cancel those Pesky Qualities of Imagination And Empathy, Part 102.7 In A Contemptibly Long Series
Adjunct to the Sub-Sub Division Of Why My Own Profession
Has Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth For Years
….I’ve little doubt that author (Celeste) Ng’s hesitation about her “authoritative voice” was due to her anticipating charges of cultural appropriation (and the very real possibility of being boycotted by publishers, who would fear such a backlash): as in, how dare Ng think that she, an Asian (read: non-Black) writer, could create a full-blooded, multi-faceted, Black character?
* Although the Asian-American author imagined a Black woman as this lead character, she couldn’t bring herself to actually write her as such;
* Nevertheless, this Asian/non-Black writer was so successful in creating a compelling story about “identity and how the roles and the context of our identity contributes to how we live and relate to others in the world” that a Black actor could identify with this lead character as Black;
* And it was acceptable for the series’ casting director and other lead actor and producers to suggest casting the character as Black, and the Black actor allowed herself to take the role (“an amazing idea”), which was created by an Asian, non-Black writer….
( Excerpt from post, The Karma I’m Not Accruing, September 11 2020 )
 Specifically, in our pear tree.
 And thus I can write about whatever I want to…oh, wait, that’s every week….
 The term in this context refers to “minority” writers and artists protesting the use or depiction of their culture by other/non-minority writers or artists – even to the point of objecting to “dominant culture” artists creating or including in their work characters belonging to minority cultures.
 Yes, Lionel Shriver is a she. She appropriated a male first name at age 15.
 Self-identified as “black in America.”
 An ethnically/culturally Jewish writer, who had previously written about how she claimed the right to write non-Jewish characters and to *not* have to write about The Holocaust.
 Even if she claimed to be, it would be election fraud, as there is no such board.
 Which was published in P & W. The letter was edited for space and not run in its glorious (read: snarky) entirety.
 Excuse me, did I write ‘madam”? I mean of course, Sex Worker Supervisor.
 As per writer s.e. smith in her article, Sorry White Male Novelists, But Sexism in Publishing Is Still A Thing
 “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.
No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.” Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org