February 14, 2013

Happy Best Friends Day

You know, I was really scared when I moved across the country for graduate school. I was terrified of finding my program to be less than enthralling. Of not finding the creative well I was looking for. Of not making any friends. Of being miserable.

Spoiler: This story has a happy ending (so far). I found what I was looking for, and then some. And I know that so much of that has to do with the amazing friends I've made out here, friends I'm sure will be in my life for years and years to come.

I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day. I could get into that, but that's a post for another time. Instead, on this day dedicated to the slavish worship of romantic love, let me raise a glass to my fabulous, wonderful, talented friends, both new and old. My life would be so much less awesome without you.

February 11, 2013

Music Monday: "I Knew You Were Trouble" (WOTE Cover)

It's been a long time since I did a Music Monday. Let me preface this one by saying that I am not a Taylor Swift fan. I don't listen to her music, though I understand that she has a habit of saying (and singing) some problematic stuff. But this isn't about Taylor Swift. This is about Walk off the Earth, and in particular, their cover of "I Knew You Were Trouble."

I'm pretty sure that everybody and their mother-in-law heard about Walk off the Earth when they catapulted to internet stardom with a five-person, one-guitar rendition of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know." I'm pretty sure I listened to that song on repeat for...longer than I care to divulge.

Well, WOTE's latest earbug is their a cappella cover of Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble." I'd never heard the song before, so I had to do a little digging to discover that it was a Swift song. Now that I've listened to both of them, I have to come down unequivocally on the side of the WOTE cover. Stripped of pop/rock instrumentals, WOTE's cover is hauntingly disturbing (pretty much the right note, given the subject material), and features freaking fabulous beatboxing courtesy of KRNFX. I've listened to this cover at least fifteen times. If it were available for purchase, I'd buy it. Instead I have to spend a lot of time on youtube...and now you can, too:

February 7, 2013

Lived Experience vs. Writer's Imagination

Today in my writing class we discussed voice, and in particular, An Na's Printz Award-winning A Step From Heaven. And almost without meaning to, I found myself in the midst of a heated discussion about (essentially) the legitimacy of lived experience versus the writer's imagination. We ended up leaving the topic before I'd come to any sort of conclusion regarding how I felt, so here I'm attempting to hash out where I stand.

Here I must admit that I'm the one who started down the whole tangent when I said (probably in less coherent words) that I felt like An Na was one of the only people who could have told the story she did in A Step From Heaven because she had lived the experience of a young Korean immigrant to the United States. Last semester we read Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and the same points were raised about Alexie's background enabling him to portray something that no one else could portray.

At this point I was shut down hard by several classmates who made firm stands on the side of what I'll call the writer's imagination. Not being part of a group of particular people doesn't shut you out from telling a story about said people, they argued. You can tell whatever story you want to tell (provided you do it well). Books mentioned on this side of the issue included John Green's The Fault in Our Stars as well as Tara Sullivan's Golden Boy (forthcoming in June 2013). Did I think, then, that they had no business writing about teenagers with cancer or albino boys in Tanzania?

While I'm sure that some people might make that claim, I'm not attempting to say that John Green should not have written a book about teenagers with cancer. But I do believe that authors who have lived the experiences they attempt to portray automatically write from a position of authority. We trust that their stories are legitimate because their experiences are legitimate. Essentially, these authors have a leg up on other writers of realistic fiction. Authors who do not come from such backgrounds must work harder to convince the audience that the story they tell is (in a literary sense) true to the world they portray.

Speaking more generally about voice, this goes to the idea that you (the writer) are the only person in the world that can tell the stories that you tell, in the way you tell them. Steven Schwartz, in "Finding a Voice in America," argues that "writers don't get very far in finding their voices until they are willing to face the intersection of their unique experiences with that of the larger culture." You are the writer you are because of the person you are.

I stand by my original statement. I don't believe that anyone but An Na could have written the book she did. It's a remarkable story, and one that she makes me believe. That doesn't mean that anyone who isn't a Korean immigrant to the United States shouldn't write a story about Koreans immigrating to the United States. I just think that there is a material difference between people who are and people who are not--and that anyone who doesn't have that cultural experience must work even harder to find a voice that rings true to their audience.

What do you think? Should writers back off of subjects they have no cultural attachment to, and if so, why?