Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

A Different Truth

Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

A Different Truth

Article excerpt

FICTION WRITERS HAVE A PECULIAR ROLE when it comes to politics and race. They sit back, observe and then make up a story. Sometimes, they watch TV (as novelist Chris Abani does), or they read the newspaper (as novelist Octavia Butler did), and entire novels are born from those moments. Once the novel is written, the writer becomes a temporal spokesperson on the political issue.

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This happened to John Updike this year, The literary giant wrote a novel about a boy grappling with his Muslim identity and titled it, The Terrorist. Overnight, Updike became a voice of authority on terrorism. Reporters questioned him about public policy and the inner workings of "angry Arab Muslim youth." Sadly, Updike felt he had every right to write from the perspective of a brown Muslim boy--despite the political realities that treat old white men very differently from young brown teenagers.

Updike's decisions were upsetting to me. I'm a journalist by trade and a fiction writer by heart. I grew up believing the media gives us the "who, what and when" of our communities, but it is the fiction that creates for us the story of what people actually experience. The fiction gives meaning to abuses that at first glance seem only cruel. It's fiction that most accurately portrays our potential for surviving and fighting for what we believe in. I think Updike shares this idea, but he takes it to mean that we write fiction from a place of shared humanity that transcends war and institutional racism. …

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