Writing MultiCultural Stories
with Rukhsana Khan & Uma Krishnaswami
Log file opened at: 11/13/01 5:17:34 PM
*** Topic for #Kidlit: Writers & Illustrators of Children's Literature Meet Here Nightly - WELCOME!
windy2u: I'll camp here if it's okay.
Verla: sure. it's fine, windy. You get a front row seat that way
windy2u: Back later.
Verla puts a huge SAVED FOR WINDY sign on the front row, center seat
*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to Writing Multi Cultural Stories workshop tonight - 9pm EST
Verla: One of my workshop leaders for tonight can't get into the chat room... her server's been banned. :-(
_Lyra: you guys here??
Amishka: are you still here?
_Lyra: yeah, just reading a bit while I waited
Amishka: I was making tea
Verla: I'm back. Been trying to get things ready for the workshop
_Lyra: there you are!
Verla: windy will be back for the workshop. She's doing dinner right now
Verla: Rukhsana can't get in.
_Lyra: that's too bad
Verla: her server's been banned
_Lyra: where is she?
Verla: in Canada, lyra
Amishka: she's near me
_Lyra: well they let Mish in...(!)
Amishka: different server
Verla: she should come to your house and do the workshop from there, ami. You have great/stable server!
_Lyra: yeah, mish always makes it in
Missisip: Hi all. I more of a lurker than a talker, I must admit.
_Lyra: Yeah, we'll have a nice group tonight -- of course once workshop starts we can't have personal talk, so have to talk now
Verla hugs Lynne. You are just in time for the workshop, Lynne.. it's supposed to start in a few minutes. I'm waiting for our fearless leader to arrive
*** uma has joined channel #Kidlit
Amishka: she's here Verla
_Lyra: and there is our speaker!
uma: Hi all!
Verla: So she is! HI, Uma!
Lil_Critte: Welcome, Uma!
uma: Made it
Verla: Just in time, too.
Amishka: hi Uma
uma: I know. Good to be here
Verla: I'm still bummed that Rukhsana can't get in after all we did to try to coordinate the dates... Sigh...
uma: i know, what a pain
uma: Verla I got your message about Rukhsana's info --
uma: me too, can we try and get her material in tonight?
Verla: yes. I can post what she sent to me, Uma...
Amishka: good Verla
uma: OK, good, and she'll be standing by on email as well
uma: so maybe we can feed some questions to her?
Verla: Yes, she can particpate some.. and, if anyone has questions for her, I'll relay them via email and she will send the answers back to me so we can have her particpate that way, too.
Verla: meantime,, you can "hold down the fort" and continue answering questions from the floor in here, uma
uma: sounds good, verla
Verla: this will work, -- just not as well as if she were right here
Verla: Okay folks... you about ready to "go?
Lil_Critte: Yes, rarin' :)
----------Actual Workshop Begins Here----------
*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to Writing Multi Cultural Stories workshop IN PROGRESS
Verla: First, for anyone who might be new to these workshops, here are the "rules"
Verla: Welcome to our monthly Kidlit Workshop. We ask that you hold all personal chit-chat until the hour is up, but we encourage you to join the discussion in progress of the topic currently under discussion.
Verla: and we do mean that! Please ask questions and give us your opinion on things we are discussing
Verla: Our workshop tonight is being held by two wonderful people...
Verla: Rukhsana Khan and Uma Krishnaswami
Verla: Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties beyond our control, Rukhsana will only be participating through pre-prepared statements and via email through me...
Verla: because she can't get into the chat room tonight.
Verla: so if you have questions to ask her, ask me and I'll forward them via email and post her answers as she comes back with them to me in email.
Verla: Uma, of course, will be answering questions right here
Verla: Okay... first let me introduce your leaders to you...
Verla: Rukhsana Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan and immigrated to Canada at the age of three. She grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada and loved books from an early age. She has five books published (many of which have won and/or been shortlisted for awards). Her books are: Bedtime Ba-a-a-lk, The Roses in My Carpets (about her Afghani refugee foster child), Muslim Child, Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile, and her newest, King of the Skies (published by Scholastic Canada) She lives in Toronto with her husband and four children.
Verla: UMA KRISHNASWAMI is the author of Yoga Class (2000, Bebop Books/Lee & Low, an emergent reader); Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India (1999, Linnet Books); The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha (1996, Linnet Books - Winner, 1997 Scientific American Young Readers Book Award), and Stories of the Flood (1994, Roberts Rinehart Publishers). She has also written fiction and nonfiction for Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, and Highlights for Children.
Uma teaches writing to adults and children in school, library, and museum settings around the country, and online through Writers on The Net. She also runs a writing workshop for children through the National Park Service at Aztec Ruins National Monument in northwest New Mexico. She has spoken by invitation about her writing and teaching projects at numerous state and regional conferences and teacher training institutes.
Uma's forthcoming books include Hello Flower (emergent reader, Lee & Low, Fall 2001); Beyond the Field Trip: Teaching and Learning in Public Places (resource book for teachers, Linnet Books, Fall 2001); and Monsoon (picture book, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003). A short story of hers is to be included in a 2003 HarperCollins multi-author anthology of fiction.
Verla: Okay, Uma... the "floor" is yours! Clap! Clap! Clap!!!!
uma: Thanks Verla.
uma: I'd like to start by saying that I think everyone writes from within their cultures
uma: We all bring this baggage of practices and beliefs
uma: to everything we write.
uma: So even if I write about Parks and education I;m bringing my peculiar slants to all that I say
Verla: Yes, that sound inevitable
uma: but if i'm aware of that then I am clearer in my head about things, e.g. POV
Verla: Rukhsana said this about that subject, Uma... First and foremost--do your research. Don't make assumptions about the culture. Let go of all previously held notions of what is 'obvious' regarding the human condition.
Verla: which agrees with what you just said
uma: True. E.g. bcs so many things like that are really culturally dictated
uma: from the superficia
uma: like how you nod to say hello or I agree
uma: to shaking hands (or not)
uma: to pretty deeply-held perceptions and beleifs
uma: I wrote an article for the SCBWI bulletin that isn't out yet
uma: called Farewell to the Orient
uma: about just this, in this case perceptions of the East in children's books
uma: and how at one time it was an "us" writing about a :"them"
Verla: sometimes, the simplest things can take on totally different meanings, too. When we went to Brazil, we were warned by our tour guides to not make a circle of our thumb and forefinger in the "okay" sign, as it had a totally unacceptable meaning to the people who lived there!
uma: right, or something as simple as when I first cam e to the US I never knew
uma: which way to look when I crossed the road
uma: and it was a couple of close calls before
uma: I figured it out
Verla: eeek! That could be life-threatening, uma!
uma: right. but did you know that people duck different ways to avoid
uma: walking into each other in halways too?
uma: I was always doing this dance with people, ducking left when they'd go right!
uma: in writing, there's so much that can be nuance, very subtle stuff
uma: so here are some things I try to keep in mind:
uma: do that research
uma: get a couple of readers from inside and outside the culture
uma: more than just one from within in,
uma: because how will you know if that person's take is representative of the culture
uma: or just idiosyncrasy?
Verla: Rukhsana says this about research...
Verla: Take nothing for granted! Research and confirm everything! i.e I assumed that when camels are being slaughtered their throats are cut, like in the case of goats, not so. (Their jugular veins are pierced instead, because camel throats are too thick and strong to cut.
uma: What a great example. Stunning, actually:-)
uma: to the faint of heart.
Verla: (Don't be afraid to jump in and ask questions and make comments, people. This is meant to be an interactive workshop... you are encouraged to make comments!)
uma: Yes, please
Agy: I have two wips (Note: wips = Works-In-Progress) with black people as main protags. One set in 1942 (pb), (Note: pb = Picture Book) the other in 1972. Both are told from other povs (Note: povs = point of views) (the first a cat, the second a twelve yo old white girl that changes allegiances in friendship. The first is about a living person, who has ongoing input. I guess I really want to do both stories with some kind of humanity and honor. What would be the best way of not coming off as dismissing? (alot of it is based on my own memories Agy: You said to jum p in!
uma: I think the other POV is a very wise choice, Agy,
uma: bcs it allows you to pan that camera out and in as you need to, right?
uma: I think the fact that you are motivated to think of it this way, with honor, and humanity, is a great place to approach it
Agy: Yes, there are things I can't know, as well as there are some historical references, Ann for instance was friends with Duke Ellington, because of racial attitudes of the day
Agy: They both very much have to do with the reason for the whole story, alot of it for very personal reasons. THere is absolutely no pity involved, A great deal of admiration
uma: Exactly, Agy, so setting that POV one step away allows you room to fictionalize
uma: but I would also be sure to make the people real, and not sort of placed on a pedestal -- ennobled
uma: beyond what the story calls for? does that make sense?
Agy: Fly on the wall. Ann's mom ran the only colored only hotel in OOB in the Big Band era. The other is about Vietnam war and not fitting in, kinda like a good story I read about Putting On a play
Agy: from a kids view in small town
uma: They both seem sound and you have thought some of this through obviously
Agy: And the term colored wasn't mine, that's what Ann calls them
Verla: Hmmm. Rukhsana says...Approach the culture in a completely non-judgemental way. Feeling sorry for members of that culture is a judgemental approach to the culture because pity implies superiority. i.e. you only pity those whom you consider worse off.
Verla: she also said: If you are writing to 'uplift' the culture--don't. Save your energy. It means you will be coming at the culture from a condescending point of view that will irritate people of that culture and open you up to hostility--even if the points you are making are valid, and the criticisms are justified.
Verla: Just as 'white' people bristle when ethnci minorities criticize their customs, ethnic minorities bristle when being criticized from outside their culture as well.
Verla: There must be a vital reason to set the story in the particular culture. Don't set a story in a culture just because there are no stories of that culture.
uma: and minorities have 200 + years of colonial rule they're still trying to bristle off!
Verla: Rukhsana says: I think the mistake that most Western writers make when writing about another culture, is that they make some aspect of the culture the driving force of the story. The culture provides the conflict. What message do you think that would send people who belong to that culture?
Verla: Rukhsana says: i.e. Most 'white' writers who write about women in Islam 'solve' the problem of the culture by having the protagonist dress up as a boy and run away. Again, what kind of message does that send girls living in that culture?
Verla: I just sent your question to Rukhsana, Agy... so we can see what she says directly about it, too.
Agy: Thank you Verla
uma: thanks Verla, I just got an email from her and she says "waaah" she wants to be here!
Verla: I know.. I wish she were here, too...
_Lyra: how does Rukhsana pronounce her name? (sort of on topic...)
uma: Just like it's spelled. with the U like a short oo.
Amishka: sorry for yelling
uma: like Uma, same u sound
Amishka: Rukhsana - It's almost Ruxanna
Agy: I've always said Rook sahna- but I didn't realize Roxanna!!!!! Oh my!
Lil_Critte: Uma, what is the "acceptable" definition of multicultural stories. For example, would it include folk tales, historicals and contemporaries?
uma: I started with folktales
Verla: Oh, GREAT question, Lil!
uma: because I am a lousy plotter
uma: and I had all these stories to draw on to teach me how
Agy: I love folktales, but I keep hearing they don't want them, do you think this is true?
uma: these things come and go, right now that's what they're saying
uma: but there are some houses that are still doing them,
uma: sort of specialized for the storytelling market
uma: August House
uma: and Shoe String Press and places
uma: the folktale market's pretty tight
Verla: true, uma. For a while, folktales were all the rage, and no one would touch anything in rhyme, now the houses are buying rhyming stories like mad and folktales seem harder to sell. It seems to go in cycles....
uma: right, so write what moves you and wait for those cycles to come around
uma: Here are some others things I find useful
uma: Consider the literary and artistic traditions of the place you are using as setting. They may well offer you stylistic cues and points of departure for both content and structure of your story. Many Asian regional studies departments in American universities, as well as museums and art galleries, have a good deal of expertise to offer in this area.
Agy: There's a project here in Maine that I'm sending my portfolio to. they are retelling a lot of the stories fromthe different immigrants to help them maintain their identity while learning the language. I'm excited I hope to be a part of it.
Agy: The immigrants are the ones doing the retelling
uma: Yes, that's the sort of thing I mean, get involved with projects that excite you
Verla: Rukhsana had something to say about your earlier question about your books, Agy. Here's what she said: The problem is, and I hate to say this, but you're coming at it from a perspective of privilege.
Verla: It comes down to the old adage, 'write what you know'. No matter how much you empathize with the plight of blacks in these time periods, it's really hard to put yourself in their perspective. I would not attempt it.
Verla: But on the other hand, there's a lot written from the black perspective. Check out Alice Walker. If you can temporarily adopt 'black' values, including the negative ones, without passing judgement on them, then it is possible.
Verla: Also tell her, that I really understand what they're trying to do, and I'm
Verla: not trying to discourage anyone at all.
Verla: To get an understanding of what it feels like to be an identifiable
Verla: minority, I'd suggest she put on a fat suit and go out in public. Then feel
Verla: the stares. One reporter did it recently and she found it an eye opening
Verla: experience. This is what people of colour endure all the time.
Agy: Some of us don't need the suit
Verla: LOL, agy!
Lil_Critte: Did Uma miss my question, Verla?
Verla: No, she hasn't gotten to it yet, Lil...
uma: Lil, was your ques about what is a multicult story?
Lil_Critte: Yes, sorry to repeat.
uma: I think it's a story that is set against one or another identifiable culture, OR one that involves the interplay of many cultures
uma: but the important thing is to keep the focus in the story
Lil_Critte: So it's a broad definition...
Lil_Critte: And can be written in a variety of formats, then?
uma: yes it's pretty broad. Lee & Low who define themselves as a multicult publisher,
uma: tend to use this way of looking at it.
uma: oh yes, picture books through YA (Note: YA = Young Adult novels)
Verla: My next book to be published is written about the Nez Perce tribe...
Verla: and I shudder to think what the reviewers might do to it because I'm not a native american
uma: I know, Verla, and you had a good deal of research to do on it
Verla: yes, I worked on that 225 word story for 5 years, Uma...
uma: and yes you're not native, but with that kind of work
uma: behind you, you're probably covered at least on the facts
Verla: I just got the answer in to your question from Rukhsana, Lil... Here it is:
uma: OK let's hear from R
Verla: A writer friend I know defines 'multicultural' as a story about more than one culture. I don't know if I agree with that exactly. Multicultural in the common sense is a story about an 'other' culture. Not predominant culture.
Verla: Yes it includes folk tales and in he case of folktales, it is much more of an acceptable practice to take folktales from other countries and cultures because in ssence they are in their words and perspectives. But even if you read a lot of folktales from Asia, for instance. You'll find at what works in terms of story for them, is not necessarily appealing to folks over here.
uma: I disagree with that "more than one" definition too
uma: There's interpretation involved esp when you write for kids
Lil_Critte: I have heard that too, though.
Agy: I think that is the crux of the argument. The research, the approach, and the intent. In my Picture Book's case it's about someone, and she has final say over the entire project. I figured it was the least I could do, it's her story. But I really want it to be told, and not lost to time
Verla: And Agy.. about folktales and publishers not wanting them as much any more... Rukhsana says: Agree completely. But remember, if you want to sell a folktale, do your research. There are some awards out there that are just for folktales, and there are folklorists who make it their life's work to analyse and promote them.
Verla: that's kind of how I felt about my book, too, Agy. Only it was a fictional story, and it was the whole tribe's story that I wanted to have children made aware of
Agy: Agy stubs her toe.... opens her eyes
uma: Can we go back to Point of View for a moment?
Verla: sure, Uma. You are the leader ... lead us and we will follow.
uma: Orientalism is the term coined by scholar Edward Said, for this exoticization of places far from what used to be the English-speaking world.
uma: And you have to make sure what you're retelling is OK to retell
uma: e.g. not a sacred story, or one that isn't meant to be written
Verla: meaning it was for ANY foriegn place, Uma? Not just the Oriental countries?
uma: or shared outside certain places, times
uma: Well he talks about Asia
Verla: Oh.... I never even THOUGHT of that, Uma!
uma: but I think the concept is relevant
uma: it's like The Orient never existed
uma: it was a made-up term
uma: it's not on any map, right>
uma: So he says, be careful how you think about these folks,
Agy: ping.... I never looked at it that way
uma: because that whole term was a catch all for an exotic, scandalous place that never existed
uma: e.g in the old "orient" and stories of it --
uma: poor. In such stories, everyone in an eastern setting lives in a village, wears traditional clothes, and is sometimes artistic, but always illiterate and barefoot.
uma: funny, with strange names (Nabobs and Rajahs abound in such books, even when they are set in the present time). People from Asian regions are shown as comical and bumbling, untrustworthy or with animal-like attributes.
uma: cardboard characters, with motivations unconnected to those of real people from the region.
Agy: Cynthia Leitich Smith, and some other Native American writers did a scathing article on that scholastics, I lay My Heart Upon the Ground (I think that was the name of it) this was the problem with the book, they took the research from the conquerors, and the brainwashed students
Verla: I think we all have to do that when we want to write "outside the lines" of our own culture
Verla: Ah.. one more comment from Rukhsana about folk tales... Regarding folktales as well, try to find some that have never been retold in this culture. There are many.
Verla: But it takes some digging to find them.
Verla: Oh...and here's another comment from Rukhsana for you about your research and books, Agy...
Verla: Agree completely. But remember, if you want to sell a folktale, do your research. There are some awards out there that are just for folktales, and there are folklorists who make it their life's work to analyse and promote them.
Verla: Come to think of it Verla, Tell Agy that one way she could research a black perspective is to read extensively of the diaries of slaves, and journals of blacks. Read it and absorb the feelings of the narrators, and imagine herself as them, saying these things.
Verla: Rukhsana also said: I'm in the process of writing about another culture right now, and the way I'm immersing myself in the mindset is by reading what people said back then. This is seventh century Arabia, and I've got to work just as hard to do their perspective justice without being judgemental.
uma: sorry we crossed signals there. but that's what the Orientalism thing is about too
uma: that there are other voices now
uma: telling these stories theire way
uma: if I were going to write a story set in South Africa, e.g.
uma: I;d need to study the place from many points of view, black and Afrikaans and Indian
uma: and know them all pretty thoroughly
uma: places that used to be far away
uma: are only mouse-clicks away now
Agy: But still you have to be careful, esp on the net of the veracityof the research
uma: and of course it would be "from the outside"
Verla: Very true. Internet research has opened a lot of doors for many of us
uma: and I'd check and double-check.
Agy: I would only use something I absolultely know to be reliable
uma: We do that for historical fiction.
uma: what not for this kind of "geographical fiction"?
uma: why not, I mean
uma: veracity -- good point
Verla: Great idea, uma!
uma: because again there are many points of view.
uma: E.g. Rukhsana and I have cultural links to about the same region of the world
uma: but those links couldn't be more different!!
Verla: YES... anyone can put up anything on the internet. You have to be very careful that what you are getting is accurate information
Verla: I just sent part of this conversation to Rukhsana... so she may have some comments to add about internet research too...
Verla: also... she just said this: One book that portrays the black perspective in an excellent way is Monster by Walter Dean Myers. It blew me away. By the end of it I felt like I knew exactly what it felt like to be black in a big inner city in America.
Lil_Critte: What non-fiction writing books would you recommend for learning more about writing multi-cultural stories? Are there any at all, or just sections of books?
Agy: But this is a wonderful resource for putting people in touch with one another, there are lots of Colleges on line, I be the access to multicultural lines of study are there
uma: there are great journal articles
uma: by Betsy Hearne, e.g
uma: I'd also recommend BookLInks the journal of IBBY
Verla: Oh... Great question, Lil... I'm passing it along to Rukhsana
uma: The International Bd of Books for Young People
uma: Betsy says cite sources and you'll reduce cultural chaos
uma: esp true for folktales
Verla: Yikes... would you believe our hour is almost over already????
Verla: Just five minutes to go....
Verla: so if you have any last minute burning questions (or comments) to make, make them now...
uma: wow, ok here;s one more thing
uma: dialogue/conversation. make it real
uma: same eavesdropping rules as for other fiction!
uma: Agy there's a multicult ed listserv too
Verla: Rukhsana had this to say for her "parting comments": I think culture should be like wallpaper, firmly a part of the setting--affecting the plot in subtle ways but not forming it.
Verla: The obstacles are substantial when trying to convey another culture accurately. But if you write with respect and understanding, these obstacles are not insurmountable.
uma: Yes! Don;t make the culture the story.
Verla: (and she still might come back with a couple more comments in response to your earlier questions.)
uma: Approach it with care and concern, yes. And be willing to ask questions
uma: mostly people will be happy to help. Sometimes you have to know when to back off, though. Know what stories not to tell
Verla: re the question on books... here's what Rukhsana said: I can't think of any books on writing multicultural. Maybe because there are no 'experts' yet.
Verla: and here's what she said about your comment about writing about South Africa, Uma... If I were to write about South Africa, I'd try to go there and 'feel' it. I think there's something about the feeling of the land that molds the people who live there.
Verla: I think Uma would agree.
SandyKC: How successful do you think authors are at crossing cultural lines? Do many do it?
Agy: Jack Ezra Keats, Pat Polacco, W
Verla: yes! They do a great job, Agy!
Lil_Critte: Richard Mosher--Zazoo :)
Agy: Verla Williams, a little bit
uma: I agree, it shows when people write of place without haveing been there
Verla: and I think Aaron Shepard does a great job with folktales, too
Agy: Yes I like him
Lil_Critte: I agree---he's wonderful!!
uma: Yes, Aaron;s a careful researcher
Agy: Dian and Leo Dillon considered multicultural in real life and out?
Verla: More comments from Rukhsana about the South Africa topic: Also, you'd need to know the history of South Africa, because a lot of a people's characteristics come down to what they've endured in the past. The stories are passed through generations, and with the stories, can come resentment.
Verla: That could give your character an enormous chip on their shoulder which is something you'd have to allow them to express.
uma: yes, and aren't characters with chips on their shoulders wonderful?
uma: much mroe interesting than those without?
Amishka: I think you'd have to research back story no matter what you write about
Agy: Some of us had building blocks uma ;^)
Amishka: whether multi/ or in your own culture
uma: I understand Agy!! I carry a few
Verla: I just asked Rukhsana for any last closing comments (other than those I already posted)...
Lil_Critte: Well, I'm off--thanks, Uma , Rukhsana and Verla!
uma: Verla I want to say -- the story should come first. As a writer I need to serve the story, not me, not the reader, the story.
Verla: When they come in.... we will have to close our workshop for tonight. But it was Wonderful! You were great, Uma... and so was Rukhsana! It was especially hard for her, as she only got what I sent her via email
Verla: good comment, Uma!
uma: thanks all.
SandyKC: thanks uma
uma: you're welcome. I feel out of breath!
Agy: Thank you all, and above and beyond the call Rukhsana!!!
Amishka: Great workshop Uma and Rukhsanan
Agy: I appreciate it, now to apply what we've talked about
Amishka: good job relaying messages too Verla
uma: thank you Verla for doing all that relaying.
Agy: Verla, I gotta go, still recovering. Thank you so much, You had this personally for me! Good night all!
Verla: You're all very welcome. I was glad to be able to help.
Verla: Oh.. Rukhsana said to tell you all that there is more information on her website, too....
Verla: and you are encouraged to go and look at it
Verla: Her URL is easy...
uma: and mine is www.childrensbookguild.org and follow the Authors list to K for my page
Verla: Great, Uma!
Verla: Here's Rukhsana's final comments...
Verla: I'd like to say how much I appreciate their patience, and yours Verla. This workshop by proxy was not easy, but I'm glad it seems to have been beneficial for those who participated.
Verla: And my final thought:
Verla: Write with honesty. That is paramount.
Verla: Great Workshop! Thanks Uma and Rukhsana!
*** Signoff: uma (Quit: Nite all)
SandyKC: Sounds like I missed a lot!
SandyKC: It was good right up to the end... drat being late!
Amishka: Wow people left fast
SandyKC: They did... and I JUSt SHOWERED... Hope it wasn't me!
Verla: What kind of soap did you use, Sandy...
Verla: or did you use any at all?
SandyKC: MMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmm... what was in there?
Verla: Night, all! (Eeeek, Sandy!)
*** Amishka has set the topic on channel #kidlit to Children's Writers and Illustrators meet here nightly
Copyright © 2001
All Rights Reserved