Friday, 29 June 2012

Appropriation of Voice: Back to That Old Question

There are now 10 stories more or less written for the short story collection I've been working on for the last year, and for which I got that nice CALQ grant.  Called Desire Lines: A Geography of Love, it is designed to explore the various kinds of love we  feel, between lovers, between parents and children, between friends.  Only a couple of the stories are ready for publication, but I'm more or less satistifed with the contours of the collection.  That's good because I'm supposed to make a report on what I've accomplished with the grant money in a short time.

Because I want to cover a lot of human experience, I've consciously varied the point of view, but yesterday I began wondering if I had given to much of the spotlight to the female one.  So I counted: five are exclusively female, two are split between men and women and three are male. 

Hmm.  Is that good enough?  Or is it really possible for a woman to put herself in the skin of a man?  Certainly I've tried before with (I think) some success, but echoes of that controversy from the 1990s are bouncing around me.  At that point there were nearly physically violent clashes over whether men could write in the voice of a woman, and if a member of one ethnic group had a right to take write from the point of view of another group.  The Writers' Union of Canada had several stormy sessions over the issue, while in the US and elsewhere, it was argued that  white men couldn't understand and therefore couldn't write about the experience of "others."

The last book we discussed at the Atwater Library Book Group was The Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar.  The French writer successfully (in most readers' eyes) gives us the story of the Roman emperor told in the first person.  The Atwater group found the book rewarding for the most part, and several said they had trouble believing that it was fiction by a 20th century woman.  "How can this happen?" at least two people asked. 

Well, the answer is: anything can happen if the writer is good enough.  Obviously Yourcenar was.  The question for me now is: how good is Mary Soderstrom?

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