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Monday, November 02, 2009

Why Do Writers Get Compared Only to Writers of the Same Ethnicity?

A really funny--and also true-- post at HuffPo from Celeste Ng about the way every single writer of East Asian descent seems to be compared to Amy Tan in blurbs, back-cover copy, promotion and even book reviews. And it's not because of their approach to prose. The same goes for writers of other backgrounds:
Check any bookshelf of contemporary fiction and you'll see what I mean. Black writers get compared to black writers; Jewish writers to Jewish writers; gay writers to gay writers. According to the publisher's description, my friend Preeta Samarasan's novel Evening Is the Whole Day is "sure to earn her a place alongside Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Zadie Smith." I teased her: a place on the shelf of Brown Women Writers. As someone of Indian descent, Samarasan can apparently hope to become a Bharati Mukherjee or a Jhumpa Lahiri, but not -- say -- a Toni Morrison or an A. S. Byatt. Or an Amy Tan, for that matter.

Well worth a read. I've always found it funny that this is done, because a lot of the writers who get compared to each other have little in common in terms of style and tone, even if their subject matter overlaps: Gish Jen, Sam Chang and Amy Tan are all EXTREMELY different, as are Kiran Desai and Jhumpa Lahiri.

1 comment:

  1. Maggie11:53 PM

    It appears to be an inate urge to group people of the same ethnic background. I am half greek and I get countless people trying to introduce me to other greeks as if that is enough common ground for us to be best friends forever. Cue ackward silence. So having experienced it first hand I am not at all surprised that author's get to suffer as well.