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Cultural Appropriation

When I began writing my first novel about twenty years ago, I was writing a story about a girl whose mother was indigenous. I was well into the story when I realized it was a minefield. One of my characters, an indigenous man, was an alcoholic. This was a step too far -- a stereotype that a white writer did not dare to play on. I quickly abandoned the novel and began another one, which played on the stereotypes of the evil lawyer and the evil mother-in-law, not to mention the Italian mafia. I finished that novel but never allowed it to see the light of day. I realize I have a penchant for cliches (like that one) and stereotypes, which I must strive against. They fall to hand too easily and I must not pick them up.

Anyway, I realized all those years ago, that I should let indigenous writers tell their own stories, and I am so happy to see that, in the years since then, they have done just that.

For myself, I had to start writing my own stories -- settler stories. I searched my family tree for possibilities and then wrote their lives as fiction and I'm still writing their stories. My ancestors can be drunks, they can be thieves, they can be anything I need them to be for the purpose of the story.

And yet, even though they are my ancestors, I feel a certain guilt about appropriating their stories too. I do not know if this one was a feminist, or unhappily married, or an adventurer. For the purpose of the story, I make them so. I sometimes wonder if earthquakes are caused by the collective acts of their spinning in their graves.

And so, I offer my most profound apologies to the ancestors for the blatant act of plundering their lives for my own purposes. I owe them a great deal of gratitude for my existence. I am sorry to repay that debt with such small coin as my wretched stories.

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