Wednesday May 17, 2017

When does inspiration cross the line into appropriation?

Writer and publisher Kateri Akiwenzee-Damm, novelist Rudy Wiebe, and writer Dorothy Ellen Palmer gather at q to discuss the latest controversy surrounding cultural appropriation and Indigenous representation in Canadian media.

Writer and publisher Kateri Akiwenzee-Damm, novelist Rudy Wiebe, and writer Dorothy Ellen Palmer gather at q to discuss the latest controversy surrounding cultural appropriation and Indigenous representation in Canadian media. (Courtesy of Kateri Akiwenzee-Damm, courtesy of Dorothy Ellen Palmer, J.D. Sloan)

Listen 19:41

Young writers are often told to write what they know. They're told the best place to start, is with their own experience because it's what they've lived and breathed. You don't often hear people argue for the opposite approach, to write what you don't know.

But that was the advice given in a controversial editorial that encouraged authors to get outside their own experience, to write from the perspective of different cultures. It also jokingly advocated for a so-called "appropriation prize." The piece appeared in the spring issue of Write Magazine, an edition featuring Indigenous writers. Write is a small publication but it has unleashed a lot of controversy and debate, especially online. The editor resigned and a series of contentious social media posts from high-ranking Canadian journalists deepened the controversy. 

At the heart of all of this is the term "appropriation" and the notion of cultural appropriation. Taking on stories and voices that aren't from your direct experience and using them to create fiction. When does inspiration cross the line into appropriation?

Today, we've gathered three Canadian writers to tackle this issue: writer and publisher Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, novelist Rudy Wiebe, and writer Dorothy Ellen Palmer. 

— Produced by Elaine Chau