Kirkus gave the novel, American Heart, by Laura Moriarty, a starred review. Then, because of criticism, Kirkus revoked it. I have not read the novel, and am not arguing whether it should have been given a star–or even a good review–based on its merits. Perhaps it is a badly written effort and should not have been given a star at all. I leave that to others. (Moriarty may or may not have done a decent or bad job of presenting Muslim characters, and I’d be fine with someone who read the book attacking it on the basis of how Muslims were presented.)
What concerns me is the reasons Kirkus has stated for revoking the star. Apparently, when asked if the book’s star was revoked explicitly and exclusively because it features a Muslim character seen from the perspective of a white teenager, Kirkus’s editor-in-chief Claiborne Smith stated, “Yes.” (See Kirkus Editor-in-Chief Explains Why They Altered That American Heart Review) This, after commenters’ attacks that the novel was promoting a “white savior” narrative.
Noting that she’s being attacked for having a “white savior” protagonist, Moriarty states that if she’d written it from the Muslim woman’s point of view, she would have been attacked as “appropriating another’s culture,” and that what’s really being said is don’t even dare to write about anyone’s culture but your own.
This narrowing of fiction and who is “allowed” to write what has been going on for a long time, and frankly, for a large part, I have felt that American writers in particular bow to this restriction, and so we end up with mediocre “write what you know” literature rather than, “know what you write” literature.
As a writer, that leaves me in despair. If this is where we are in the writing of fiction–certainly in what is favored in the publishing of fiction–perhaps writing science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction with no connection to any ethnic group existing on earth may now be the only way to go for a writer’s freedom. It’s that, or just stop writing.