Writing about Culture
Today is the Korean Thanksgiving called Chuseok, which lasts for three days. Each year I wonder if there are any story ideas lurking when I attend my in-law's activities. But so far, I haven't thought of any. Plus, someone else already wrote a marvelous picture book about the holiday. However, I'll still keep my eyes and ears open. By the way, in the photos above, the first picture shows practical gifts given, usually boxes of fruit, food, or shampoo/toothpaste sets wrapped in fancy silk cloths. The second picture shows some appetizers, sausage patties and zucchini patties dipped in egg, and the last is a skewer with mushroom, radish, crab, Spam, and fish. The last photo is Songpyon, traditional Thanksgiving rice cakes filled with crushed sesame seeds, sesame oil, and sugar. They're supposed to be in the shapes of a half moon to picture how the moon fills up, signifying that they hope their harvest is plenty. (at least that's what I read...my relatives made this food.)
This got me to thinking today. Have you ever written a story that takes place in another culture? I've written about the Korean culture because I'm living and learning it. And I've written one story based on a true account of a similar culture to South Korea by conducting interviews, watching You Tube Videos, and reading lots of articles on the subject. (still to be published someday)
If you've written about another culture that's not your own, what kind of research did you do? Watching video clips about the culture really helped me feel like I was there.
Currently, my daughter is reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. I wondered how Linda Sue wrote this without visiting Sudan. Here's what I found on the web.
While researching A Long Walk to Water I read Salva’s own accounts of his journey and interviewed
him many times. For Nya’s part of the book, I had access to notes, photos, and video footage from
people who had visited villages like hers (including my husband, who traveled to southern Sudan
in 2009). I read several books about the Lost Boy refugees, watched documentaries and researched
articles. Most important of all, of course, was my unrestricted access to Salva and his willingness to
share his memories. ~Linda Sue Park http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/skins/uqp/_uploads/TeachersNotes/A%20Long%20Walk%20to%20Water.pdf
I've read how American publishers need and want to publish more multicultural books. What do you think of authors writing about a culture not their own? I know it's been discussed. You might have seen the illustration below circulating among the kid lit community. Something else to think about!
Amazing illustration by artist Tina Kugler about the lack of diversity in children's literature in 2012. Kugler's illustration is based on the findings by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University Wisconsin-Madison which analyzed 3,600 last year and discovered that less than 8% of the total titles they received from publishers were about people of color.
9/18/2013 10:28:35 pm
Wonderful post Tina! I enjoyed learning about this holiday - three days, wow!
I think authors writing about cultures that are not their own is a good thing. After all, that in itself is practicing diversity in a way, isn't it? Of course, it goes w/out saying that you need to do your research and not make assumptions! =) And it was neat to learn about a new cultural holiday- I had no idea Korea had a thanksgiving of its own. I'd assumed America was the only one. *shame on me for my assumptions!* ;)
9/19/2013 06:06:21 am
I agree with Cathy. Life as a transplant in a different culture -- with all the surprises, learning, and adjustments that go with it -- is fascinating to me. I'm guessing there are many stories waiting to be told.
Enjoyed your post, Tina. We have been to Korea a number of times for ministry. I loved the food, even the Kimchee (not sure I spelled it right) but my husband balked at eating that!!!
9/22/2013 09:40:36 am
Looks like the festivities are over. Enjoyed this post as my sister lives in Japan. And if there's only one book on the market, time for you to write the second one.
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Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!