I hated to write. When I was in fourth grade I had a teacher that gave us an assignment to write a poem. I couldn’t think of anything good enough to write so I missed recess. My teacher was so angry with me because she thought I was being defiant and just didn’t want to do my assignment. She decided I needed to stay in class while everyone else got to have fun outside without me. My friends were having fun while I had a mini panic attack waiting to come up with something to appease my teacher. That was my first encounter with writing.
It made me not want to bother with any of it. I loved to read, but hated to write. I wanted to be a professional dancer when I was younger so I wasn’t worried about learning sentence structure. A rainy summer day was my first attempt at fiction. It was the summer AFTER fourth grade. I was bored because I couldn’t go outside and play. So I took some yellow pad paper and folded it to look like a book. I wrote very short stories called “My New Cat” and “My New Skates”. It isn’t important what these stories were about because they were simple and not good. But, it was nice to finally understand that writing could be fun and not a chore.
I figured out I could create my own world with my writing – that was cool. Yet, as I look back the characters I created when I was younger did not really have an identity. I didn’t write my characters with race and ethnicity in mind. My characters were “colorless” because race didn’t matter to me as a kid. I didn’t even understand that I was “black” and what that really meant until I was 12.
When I was 12 I was called a nigger by a classmate. I thought that word had been trashed after 1970. Boy was I wrong. I was confused about it because I never grew up to see color. My friends were all races and we didn’t talk about our different skin tones. I didn’t expect to become AWARE of being “black”. I knew what I looked like in the mirror but I didn’t know what some people saw when they saw me was an issue.
It really shaped my life that prior to 12 I was just “Lisa” and then I became “a black girl named Lisa” and it was a painful experience. Suddenly I had people telling me how I was supposed to act based on my race. I say all these things to say: It changed my writing. In the early years of my fiction writing, my characters had no color, but then after 13 that all changed. I read a book called The Friends by Rosa Guy. The book changed my teenage life. It was the first book I read by a black female author and it was exactly what I needed at that time in my life. I was able to understand why it isn’t racist to want to write about your culture, your people, and to write from a black female point of view. There is nothing wrong with appreciating being a black female and still appreciate diversity. I didn’t fully understand any of this until my late teens.
I encourage all writers to not be afraid to write in an authentic way. If you are Japanese and want to write from that perspective, please do so. If you are Serbian, please tell your story. We need more cultures to be represented in the writing world. I would love the day when I can see a book by a Sudanese writer, an East Indian writer, and a Irish writer in the top 10 book list at the same time. Most importantly: the Sudanese teenager will love the Irish writer’s book and the Irish teenager will recommend the East Indian writer’s book to all her friends.