This is how you do it: Sherman Alexie

9 06 2011

Is it bad to write about bad things that happen to kids?

Meghan Cox Gurdan thinks so, but Sherman Alexie has another take:

Of course, all during my childhood, would-be saviors tried to rescue my fellow tribal members. They wanted to rescue me. But, even then, I could only laugh at their platitudes. In those days, the cultural conservatives thought that KISS and Black Sabbath were going to impede my moral development. They wanted to protect me from sex when I had already been raped. They wanted to protect me from evil though a future serial killer had already abused me. They wanted me to profess my love for God without considering that I was the child and grandchild of men and women who’d been sexually and physically abused by generations of clergy.

What was my immature, childish response to those would-be saviors?

“Wow, you are way, way too late.”

And now, as an adult looking back, I wonder why those saviors tried to warn me about the crimes that were already being committed against me.

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

In other words, what is bad is not writing about the bad things that happen to kids, but the bad things themselves. Protecting kids from writings about the bad things is not the same as protecting them from bad things.

Writing about those bad things, on the other hand, while it also won’t protect kids, might just  help them survive the badness:

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

h/t Paul Constant, The Slog


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3 responses

10 06 2011
dmf

he is one of my favorite writers/truth-tellers and this is a good example of why.
a similar voice is michael ventura:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/letters-at-3am/

12 06 2011
absurdbeats

I’ve only ever read Alexie’s short-form stuff, in the New Yorker and elsewhere, and I liked both the humor and the humanity of his work.

I’ll have to check out Ventura. Greil Marcus used to have a column in the way back in which he mused about music and culture and “weird old America’; it seems as if this Ventura feller might be similar.

13 06 2011
geekhiker

It seems a lot of people believe that the bad things will go away if they just stick their fingers in their ears and go “LaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLa…”

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