Who Are You Allowed to Write About?

I have a very good friend who wrote an entire draft manuscript about a set of conjoined twins. When she went to shop it around for an agent, however, everyone told her that she couldn’t write this book because she wasn’t a conjoined twin.

There is a need for ‘representational politics’ as some call it because we can’t always call up someone else’s experiences to represent them accurately. Male authors are often called on the carpet for the way they write women, for example.

As someone who studied race and identity in graduate school, the structures of powers and their potential for violence – or erasure – of the Other, is clear. Happened a lot during colonialism and as comedian Hari Kondabalu pointed out, also today, with characters like Apu.

I sort of fell into this pit myself when I moved to the Arabian Gulf and began writing novels with characters inspired by my new colleagues, neighbors, and friends. There are rampant practices of media monitoring, self censorship and restricted expression in the region so no wonder many citizens didn’t write about their own communities.

Was I doing all the things I had been taught not to by writing novels from the points of view of Arab or Muslim characters? (Of which I was neither). I didn’t think so because I had tons of cultural readers – people from the points of view of those I was writing about. They pored over the pages, draft after draft, zeroing in on details like whether or not men wore shoes in the majlis (they do).

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from John Huddles’ publicist saying he had written a novel, inspired by Hindu traditions with a female protagonist. We had a great chat about his travels to India and how that served as the inspiration for Asha of the Air.

He is a screenwriter who has also been been making SciFi with Indian characters for some time. His novel Boon on the Moon features supporting characters from the Diaspora. His established track record of presenting unique characters means that this is a well thought, researched read.

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