Lionel Shriver—author of We Need to Talk About Kevin—hailed cultural appropriation as an important and necessary tool for fiction writers during a speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival last week. She even did so while wearing a sombrero—an ode to the Bowdoin College incident.
"The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you're not supposed to try on other people's hats," she said, according to The Guardian. "Yet that's what we're paid to do, isn't it? Step into other people's shoes, and try on their hats."
Shriver points out that if no one were allowed to borrow from other cultural traditions, she would be obligated to set every single one of her novels in North Carolina—and all of her characters would have to be based upon her own experiences.
The result would be narrow-minded and dreadfully boring, Shriver noted:
I am hopeful that the concept of "cultural appropriation" is a passing fad: people with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.
But this latest and little absurd no-no is part of a larger climate of super-sensitivity, giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively makes our work impossible.
Read her full remarks here.
It's great to see such a prolific and well-respected author defending the process of writing from the purveyors of political correctness. Shaming writers who borrow from other cultural traditions is in no one's best interests: this kind of thought-policing would actually lead to less diversity, as Sonny Bunch points out.
I hope Shriver is invited to give this talk at an American university campus. This is a message that students need to hear—though they are likely to organize a dis-invitation campaign against her, I suppose.
Read more about Shriver, who describes herself as not unfriendly to libertarianism, here.