I’m delighted to participate in the C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call, a blog meme from Worducopia and Color Online that explores and celebrates diversity in literature. This week’s prompt includes the following questions:
- Which is the character who’s the most different from you? (And how? Use this as an excuse to tell us your own background and anything else about yourself that’s important to your self-identity);
- Which is the author (this could be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) who is (or was) the most different from you?
I am convinced that one of the hallmarks of a great writer is the extent to which he or she can enable readers to fully inhabit the lives of characters who are unique, uncommon, and shaped by “difference.” This is probably why I have a special place in my heart for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat, or even Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas (although in the world of Native Son, I am more closely related to the forgotten black woman, Bessie Mears: may she rest in peace). Nevertheless, once I got to know these well-developed characters, I discovered that we share something quite interesting in common – a longing for wonder, an appreciation for humanity and all its flaws, and a struggle with inexplicable realities of pain and suffering.
This is not always the case. I think that Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is brilliantly conceived, the language nimble and rich, and I have a special affection for the title character, a fellow geek and Dominican “ghetto-nerd.” But the narrative voice of this novel belongs primarily to Yunior, a ladies man whose misogynistic asides made me - me! – cringe and want to throw the book in the trash. I was saddened by the way women looked and sounded through his voice, and I felt thoroughly alienated from his experience. It affected me so much that I’m starting wonder if perhaps my reaction isn’t exactly what Diaz intended? (And just to clarify: by this I mean, I’m wondering if maybe the Yunior’s character was created to invite criticism and challenge his troubling mindset?)