Today's Big Stories

Authors' fine line between appropriation and artistic licence

Writers, authors and poets the world over have the simultaneous burden and blessing of telling other people's stories.

But to what extent can authors use their artistic freedoms to write about other identities, without exploitation or misrepresentation?

The sensitive subject of fiction and identity politics made headlines in literary circles recently, after novelist Lionel Shriver, made a speech in which she appeared to defend cultural appropriation.

Writer, academic and editor Chris Thurman, criticised Shriver for having a narrow-minded view of what cultural appropriation involves.

Thurman says that she reduced the important discussion on identity and representation to a disingenuous address.

He says that writers can't be dismissive about caricature or mockery used in written texts, and have an ethical obligation to be sensitive.

If the cultural appropriation debate is around a history of using, borrowing or imitation to demean, diminish or insult a culture of a group of people, there is an ethical obligation for us to pay attention to that.

Chris Thurman, writer, academic and editor

According Thurman, authors who claim the prerogative to write about identities other than their own must be open to criticism from readers and peers.

Meanwhile, senior English lecturer Deborah Seddon, explains that for may years white authors have held a sense of entitlement with regards to the dominant narratives in written texts.

We've come to a very interesting and challenging moment write now, where the claim to cultural an political social space (that has for centuries been the right of white people) is being increasingly challenged as we more and more stories, histories, and discourses emerging.

Deborah Seddon, Senior Lecture in English at the UCKAR

She says it is important for authors to distinguish between being a part of a community and being an outside, often white, observer.

Seddon maintains that there is a need for more complex and intersectional portrayals in literature.

Listen to the full conversation from The Redi Tlhabi Show (with Eusebius Mckaiser):

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