Last year, I wrote a panel proposal on writing outside of your race in fiction for the AWP Conference 2014. Writing characters of another race is a topic with which I have long been entrenched–since the days of being in an MFA program, and I was psyched when it was accepted. This an important topic that begs discussion, and is yet rarely discussed in open space. And I was thrilled to have an opportunity to discuss something so sensitive at AWP with some respected writing friends and mentors.
At AWP a couple months ago in Seattle, we (Randa Jarrar, Patricia Engel, Mat Johnson, Susan Ito, and I) had an amazing audience turnout for our panel entitled “How Far Imagination: Writing Characters Outside Your Own Race in Fiction”–people spilled out into the hallway in attendance, and sat on the floor all the way up to our feet. At 10:30am in the morning on the first day of the conference, no less.
Needless to say, I was pleased with the reception. We had a very intense and enriching panel discussion, and then we segued into a Q&A that was largely audience-driven. I’m not sure in hindsight, as moderator, that I made the right call in calling first on a man who interrupted the panel mid-discussion.
“I have a question!” a man called out in the middle of our discussion.
I told him to hold off until our Q&A session. And so when our Q&A began, I felt obliged to call on him, first. Because I’m polite. And I’m a fairly competent moderator and I figured I could handle most conflict. Even though he is the kind of person who will interrupt a panel in mid-discussion because He Has A Really Important Question. I kind of regret calling on him first. But it at least opened the gates wide open on what is sensitive terrain.
And we made some lively and important points on the panel, much thanks to our brilliant panelists.
There are a couple reviews of our panel up on the web. There’s a brief one here. And if you want to read about our panel in detail (albeited biased detail), The Atlantic did a write up of AWP and gave a major shout out to our panel. I’m very delighted at the amount of real estate allotted to us, even if it did make panelist Randa Jarrar sound shrill and reactive, and the dude-with-a-question into a well-intentioned victim. But then again, I think you could write an entire article about the complexities of our panel topic and how they play out in the writing world.
Excerpt/transcript of our panel after the jump…