Saturday, August 4, 2018

Panel: Culture, Identity, and Writing, Where Do They Intersect? - Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi is the author of National Book Award finalist AMERICAN STREET for young adults with more YA and middle grade books on the way. Arthur Levine asks: Where does Ibi's life and character's life intersect, and if that's a joyful spot?

Ibi says, "My story is about a Haitian immigrant teen, I'm a Haitian immigrant, of course there's going to be an intersection. The joy came when I could include writing about spirituality. I'm not talking about the bastardization/corrupted version of voodoo, I was able to talk about the whole, true, original Haitian practice of spirituality in my book...

For me it's reclaiming a narrative that hasn't been truthful at all. Taking back the power, which was empowering for me and for the narrative."

What are the talismans of power you have for your writing?

The first thing Ibi thought of was a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

Ibi also mentions W.E.B. Dubois's double-consciousness theory, being a black person in your body, being a black person in the world and how other people are responding to you and your presence, thinking about how others are seeing you in the world.

The panel talks about self-censoring their subjects as if something could be 'too diverse.' Ibi thinks about if there are points of views that people are too afraid to read but that she may want to explore:

"We've heard the term anti-blackness in this political environment. There are also instances of small black communities in history that practiced anti-whiteness. If anybody has read Tara Westover's memoir EDUCATED, Ibi knows there are similarly survivalist/anti-establishment families that exist in black communities. Who will be afraid to read about these families and how they treat their children?

Arthur asks about writing outside of your identity:

"We are in the world with other people, if we are drawn to storytelling, there's a level of empathy there." What we bring to those characters is based on our perspectives and the internal work that we do for ourselves, that work that isn't on the page but is deep self-reflection.

Our observation and perception and reflection on the world and the people in it should be on our minds all the time, and continuously questioned.

Writers Ibi loves:

Nnedi Okorafor
Renée Watson
Jacqueline Woodson
Rita Garcia Williams
Jayson Reynolds

What books would you love to see?

Ibi says, "I would love to see a book that delves deep into whiteness, I think A.S. King has a book coming out touching on this... How did whiteness get so much power? What would a white kid who understands that power structure do with it once they figure it out?"

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