I have a theory that, for people of color or others who have been cut out of the master narrative, just telling your personal survival tale, your story, is civic engagement. It is a kind of political performance and is really crucial in that storytelling is how the writers connect with people and change. It’s how we collect and add to and complicate the master narrative.
When I say my work is travel, that’s what I’m doing. And part of being biracial and multicultural is I’m always playing with genre and genre expectations. So even if I say I’m doing straight memoir, you’ll see that I’m doing weird stuff with the structure. I’ve got images, I’ve got lyrics, and I’ve got journalism. I really try to not get stuck in genre expectations.
I you’re writing memoir, but it even comes up in fiction. People just assume that you’re writing thinly veiled autobiography. And particularly, I think, for people of color, our work is always seen as kind of anthropological artifact regardless. So, there’s always going to be that assumption, but even more so in a memoir because often the names aren’t even changed. It is easier to verify.
I do find that people are incredibly naive about what it is to be a writer. Like you would pay an incredible amount of money for an MFA program and still not have the slightest idea of how one goes about becoming a writer. So, I’m always flabbergasted when people say, “Oh, I was invited to do a reading, but I’m not going to read because I don’t have a book.”.
I see a lot of people who have amazing stories but have been told that their work, their lives, and their stories and not the stuff of literature. Or they’re first-generation college student, first-generation American, and their family just doesn’t understand the art world. They have a lot of guilt. “We came all the way from [wherever] so you could do this?” Those people may not be showing the moxie, but that’s because they don’t even know what’s possible. So I want to jump in and say, “Actually, your story is amazing, and I believe in you.”.