Yesterday I got a taste of the modern twist on censorship, or whatever you choose to call it. My first middle grade novel, DOWNRIVER (about a girl in the Peruvian rain forest who wants to become a teacher), was rejected by an editor who said she liked the story but couldn’t consider it because I am not a Peruvian. She feared backlash from #OWNVOICES.
She’s got me there. I’m no more a Peruvian than Jean Craighead George is an Eskimo. So I did what writers do when writing about other parts of the world. In addition to going there, I studied the area and communicated with many people, including my Peruvian born daughter-in-law Jennifer and a friend of hers who lives and teaches in Peru. I had my story reviewed by Peruvians who know the area. One was a riverboat guide along the river in my story. They read the manuscript and suggested spots that needed to be changed. I made the changes. Did the readers like the story? Very much. Said they were pleased that I was writing such an inspiring story about that area. Does it matter? Nope. It doesn’t matter what kind of writer I am. It only matters that I’m not a native of the country I’m writing about.
Taking this a step farther, if we can’t write about folks who look or act or think differently than we do, we’re not as likely to study them, to read about them, to try to walk in their shoes, to care about them. Doesn’t this form of censorship further divide us? I’m confused and disappointed.