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News Link • General Opinion

The Right to Write

The critic said, "Of course, as a white woman, Stowe had no right to write the black experience." The other novelist said lightly, "No, of course not. And I had no right to write about 14th-century Scandinavians. Which I did."

The exchange made me wonder: who has the right to our stories?

For centuries, African-Americans couldn't fully participate in the literary conversation, since for many of them literacy was forbidden. Why wouldn't they resent the fact that their stories were told by whites? But does this mean that, as novelists, we can write stories only of our own race, our own gender, our own subcultural niche?

Stowe used other people's stories as sources, but what drove her to write was her own outraged response to slavery. She has the right to that response. Isn't it better that Stowe wrote her book, instead of staying respectfully mute because the stories were not hers to tell?

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