When earnest, scholarly William falls in love with lighthearted jokester Jerome on Chicago’s South Side, William’s family discourages the relationship. Jerome’s friends complain the two have nothing in common except being gay black men. William’s death in a traffic stop pushes Jerome into a seriousness of purpose unlike any in his free-spirited past.
Would your interest in reading this book change if you knew the author was white? Straight? A woman? From Vermont? Is it fair to evaluate a book on the basis of who wrote it? With growing demand for novels with minority protagonists, is it offensive for authors outside a given culture to jump on the bandwagon? Such issues generate heat in some circles. I’ll jump into the fray.
All novelists write about characters different from themselves; otherwise it’s a memoir. I can never be the wife of a medieval merchant. The farther I’m removed from a character’s culture, the more research and empathy it takes to avoid out-and-out errors and stereotyped, one-dimensional characters.
It can be done. The Navajo Nation honored non-Native mystery author Tony Hillerman with its “Special Friends of the Dineh Award” in 1987. Click here for his obituary in the Navajo Times. An author’s background may help me predict the credibility of a work, but the best test is how the novel comes across to people in the culture it portrays.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.