Friday, November 21, 2014

Diversity Guest Post: Autobiography Class by Nadia A. of A Bookish Way of Life

Please welcome to the blog, Nadia, from A Bookish Way of Life.

When I was in England studying for my degree in Women’s Studies, I decided to take a class about autobiographies written by women.   I thought it would be a great way to learn more about the art of autobiography within a literary context, especially as my thesis would expound on this genre.  I excitedly looked over the class syllabus and anticipated the discussions we’d be having over works by Maxine Hong Kingston, Maya Angelou, and Margery Kempe to name a few.  Imagine my surprise and disappointment when class began and my classmates declared that they couldn’t relate to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and therefore felt that they couldn’t contribute to the discussion.  

It didn’t make any sense to me why they didn’t want to dissect this book; after all, we were English majors and that was what we did.  The penny finally dropped when someone admitted that being “white” and “British” precluded them from talking about a book written by an African-American woman.  Race was the issue.  I couldn’t believe it.  Since when did you have to be African-American to understand a book by an African-American author?  Did this mean that my interpretation of Pride and Prejudice was invalid because I was Latina and not British?  Suffice it to say, that day in class was eye-opening for me.   Not only did I realize how my classmates perceived me as being “other” and “different”, but I quickly surmised how much they lacked in their understanding of the need for diversity in books.  

Authors of color are integral in helping to provide us with an array of opinions and perspectives about different cultures, races, and religions.  We need to read diversely in order to learn more about the world around us.  How else are we going to begin to relate to one another, if we can’t even connect on a literary level?  Books are the perfect means for encouraging and promoting diversity.  After all, isn’t the point of reading to escape from our own insular world and read about someone else’s?


  1. So true, books are colorblind. They don't discriminate against readers so why should readers discriminate against a book written by an author of a different race? I love reading about other cultures and as an Indian American, I'm a bit flabergasted like you were at your fellow students responses about not being able to comment on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings can make people uncomfortable, but that is a good thing in my opinion. We need to know about those "other" worlds out there. We need to know that life is not all rainbows and puppies; that bad things happen. The more we know, the more we can understand differences and not be scared by it. We simply need more diverse books! Thanks for sharing this story!


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