Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Debby Edwardson said...

I've spent the last week engaging in an online conversation on a site called Through the Tollbooth. There, like on American Indians in Children's Literature, I push writers to think about appropriation. Some people understand what I mean, others do not. It may be a failing in the way I say things. Debby Edwardson, one of the hosts of that week-long conversation, has some closing thoughts that I am sending you to read. She understands issues of appropriation, stereotyping, power, retellings of stories...  And, she did a terrific job of laying them out for her fellow writers on the Tollbooth site.

Here's an excerpt:

Debbie Reese said, “There are some things that I think non-Native writers ought to stay away from: religion, spirituality, worship.”

She also said something very provocative: “Most Native writers don't even put that in their books. Why do non-Native writers feel the need to do it?”

The question you, as a non-Native writer, should ask yourself is this: why don’t Native writers put overt references to Native religion, spirituality and worship in their books? Take a minute to think about it. This is important.

Okay. Time's up. Let’s be totally honest here. We all know that if we as writers are, say, Christian, it is not okay to preach in our books, not even obliquely. It’s not even okay to mention religion except in passing, very casually, in a nondenominational sort of way. Unless of course it’s a problem novel in which religion is the problem. These are the rules and we all know that if we don’t follow the rules we will not sell our books, except maybe to Christian niche publishers.

In fact, what Debbie said about Native writers not writing about their religious beliefs is also true for most Christian writers—writers like Katherine Patterson, for example, or Madeline L’Engle. They do not take us into their inner sanctuary of their own spiritual world. CS Lewis has been soundly criticized for sliding his Christianity in sideways.

See what I mean? Go over and read the rest of what she said. And, if you're inclined, read over posts going back to November 9th.

1 comment:

Betsy McEntarffer said...

Once again you have answered my question about a book we are considering for inclusion in our MOSAIC annual display. We received a preview copy of Debby Dahl Edwardson's book Blessing's Bead - not recognizing the author as native I wondered if you had any experience reading her books. Thus, I discovered your comments (and her's)on 'Through the Tollbooth'. I feel comfortable sending this book to our school librarian reviewers now - including the comments from the post above. Thanks again for being there for guidance and for leading us non-natives to enlightening websites. Betsy McEntarffer, Lincoln Public Schools,