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Authors & Authentic Perspectives

An increasingly important conversation in the book industry is that of diverse representation, both in the characters and stories we promote, and in the authors whose work we publish. Central to this discussion is the question: who has the right to write? Can a neurotypical author write from an autistic perspective? Can a white American write about the experience of growing up Chinese-Indian?

A key part of this discussion also comes down to authenticity: the effort and care put into representations of particular cultural groups and their experiences. Take, for example, Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ (2003) and John Boyne’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (2006).

Both of these texts received great acclaim in relation to their representation of Asperger’s/autism and the holocaust respectively, to the point that both have been included in school curriculums and other education programs since their publications. However, both authors have publicly stated that they did minimal research into the experiences they wrote about, choosing to focus more on the narrative at hand than the accuracy of their work. Does this diminish the texts’ cultural influence/importance? What responsibility do authors have to ensure authenticity (and accuracy) in their works, especially when they’re not part of the community they’re writing about?

  • You probably know this, but The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has been absolutely excoriated, not just because its author didn't do any research, but because the whole plot absolutely never would have happened, even under the best of circumstances. I haven't read Curious Incident, but I would imagine it's received similar treatment. If you're going to write this topic, I might pair one of these books with a couple that got less intense reactions (whether or not they actually deserved excoriation, which is another topic altogether). – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
  • I think this is a topic that is worth exploring, but it's also a very broad one. There are so many different takes on it and different cases worth examining. I feel that choosing a specific group/identity to discuss authenticity in writing would probably be best. – AnnieEM 2 years ago
  • All writers face the same problem of trying to describe the lives of others with the thoughts of their supervisors. But I still think it's irresponsible to express your feelings without knowing someone. – Bruce 1 year ago