Sean, I originally wrote this to a different group and then decided not to reignite something that…
Heath Houston

Heath, why on earth would anyone want to imagine being a teenage girl — that’s just sick and masochistic (I’m an expert, having not just been one but living with three…arrrrghhh!)!

Seriously though. I’ve seen the creative side of this debate go around a few times, and I think most of us fiction writers and poets land on the side of creativity. In addition to the obvious issues you mention about where to draw the line sometimes, I think there is so much to be gained by people attempting to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, even when it’s not done well. Isn’t that really the root of empathy?

The problem, of course, is when we white people have hushed black people for centuries and spoken for them. They want to be able to speak for themselves, for a change — go figure! ;-) It’s only when you deal with oppression that taking on other voices really becomes an issue. I think most of us have still landed on the side of doing it, but with respect. I would, for example, consider writing a book from a white woman’s point of view who has a black best friend. I would not, for example, write a very interior piece about a black woman from Nigeria. It would be far too much appropriation. Where is the line? Everyone would put it in a different place, and almost any way you go will incur someone’s wrath. Such is life, but whatever you do, do it with respect. (And I mean “you” generically, because Heath I’ve never seen you do anything otherwise.)

Here’s a real life example. The famous lawyer and author Scott Turow wrote a book from a woman’s perspective. He was a former student of my professor, and agreed to let our workshop critique the book. It was an okay book, none of us had an issue with him writing as a woman (although some women might); But, we noted that he wasn’t very convincing and gave examples. He must have a thin skin because he wrote back and explained to all of us women why we were Wrong. That’s when we had a problem with it.

Peace out. :-)

PS. One other point…it’s important to be clear that you’re taking on distant voices…no pseudonyms, for example. With poetry in particular, people tend to assume you’re writing about yourself. So just…disclosure.

Phew. That’s way more than I planned to write. Everyone feel free to argue, I like to hear other perspectives.