Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Lionel Shriver and Cultural Appropriation

Prominent author Lionel Shriver made a highly controversial speech at a writer’s event in Australia recently. It was on cultural appropriation and the nature and art of fiction-writing. Here’s a link to the text, presented without further comment.

I’d love to hear a counterpoint. I know my concern is that if I’m going to write outside of my own experiences, that I’m not doing that just to push a harmful stereotype because it’s a comfortable trope.

I’ve read a few responses to Ms. Shriver that—in my opinion—weren’t honestly very good, trading more on snark than substance. The best that I’ve read, perhaps, is Elana Gooray’s “Lionel Shriver is Tired of Hearing About Cultural Appropriation.”

And, Tor editor Moshe Feder threaded the needle between these two viewpoints, after a fashion:

I've always found "cultural appropriation" a weird concept. To me, it's usually a progressive step toward a future in which humanity realizes that from a galactic point of view, we all share ONE culture--albeit a complex and varied one--the planetary culture developed by homo sapiens over tens of thousands of years. It was by this very so-called "appropriation" that fire, animal husbandry, agriculture, the wheel, and other crucial advances were spread to the benefit of all. Of course, there [i]are[/i] cases where cultural appropriation is rude or inappropriate, as when you use it to mock or misrepresent other groups, and people of good will try to avoid those. But even those uses are protected by our free speech rights. (As are the protestations of those who resent such uses.)

I love it, and completely agree with her. But in the end, I can’t have much to say on the subject—I think all of us here, including and especially myself, would be better served to worry less about the sociopolitical reception of our works and spend more time writing them.


“The problem with this perspective, of course, is that seeing headlines every day about a social disparity does not make the disparity go away. Shriver’s speech ends up reading like an attempt to silence a conversation of which she has grown tired — without acknowledging that the talk is driven by underlying issues that limit other people’s lives, a reality of which they have grown tired.” -Elena Gooray Lionel Shriver Is Tired of Hearing About Cultural Appropriation

I was always taught to not make fun of people and it seems to me that if we simply take something (such as Native American garb) and wear it, it is mocking the traditions behind that garment since we don’t understand the significance behind it - we simply want to wear it because it ‘looks cool’. It is also ignoring the various problems faced by that community and the historic wrongs that have been committed against them.