Aug 16, 2013

August Genreflecting: Multicultural Fiction: The Details

Genreflecting wordle

Based on the Collins English Dictionary, a subgenre is "a category that is a subdivision of a larger genre." (Source) Multicultural Fiction is a fairly broad topic that tends to be all encompassing. Even so, there is still plenty of niche room available in this domain. You can choose to read about just one type of culture or you can choose to read about just one type of situation.

As I pointed out in The Basics post, there are two main types of books in this genre. The first follows a character within their own culture. They could be struggling to come to terms with certain aspects of their heritage, opening resisting their culture, or simply engaging in traditional rites of passage. These types of books can go any number of ways, but for the most part they focus on just one experience.

The other types of books in this genre involve some sort of clash. This could manifest itself in the shape of gang violence, interracial relations, or all out war. Any manner of encounter between two differing cultural groups gives these books their story. Personally these are the books that I tend to find myself reading more often because I like books to be driven more by events involving several characters rather than focusing on just one person's experience.

Now, with all that being said, there is a third type that many might not consider officially "multicultural." I believe that if a core character of the story represents any type of minority group that the book should be considered multicultural. In all honesty I believe this simply because we are never able to turn our backs on our heritage. It will always play a role in how we interpret & react to the situations that arise.

I think these excerpts from interviews with Jacqueline Woodson & Tanuja Desai Hidier really highlight what I've been trying to explain about Multicultural Fiction & why it deserves to be its own genre.

TEACHINGBOOKS: Can you share part of what you’re striving for in your writing?

JACQUELINE WOODSON: I write realistic fiction because I want to put onto the page people who I didn’t get to see in books when I was growing up. A lot of the books I read did not have some part of who Jacqueline Woodson was in them. There weren’t a lot of books at the time about growing up in Brooklyn or about African-American girls. I never read a book where there was a deaf kid, or where there was a single mom and a grandmother making up a family.

I was growing up in a rich culture where all different people are living around me, having 
different experiences — this was the real world to me. So to go to read books sometimes and not see myself in the pages made me think, “Well, where am I?” and by extension, “Who am I?” It made me start writing about the things that really mattered to me.

Tanuja wanted to tell her desi (term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and, increasingly, to their diaspora) story to the world in her short stories -  Desilicious anthology. "... Born Confused was my way of writing about how positive it is to have desi heroes and heroines from the diaspora. I wanted to shape a period of cultural confusion and cultural exhilaration. I wanted to find out - What does it mean to be Indian? To be South Asian? To be American? And at the heart of that: To be yourself? I also wanted to redefine the C in ABCD - the term 'American Born Confused Desi' - because there certainly are people who are unsure about their cultural identity."

From her blog [definition from]

I hope this was education but fun! Be sure to check back next week when I review Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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