Short story writer and enthusiast Tania Hershman has been running a series at her blog about writing and place. I loved the most recent post by Cypriot short story writer and poet (who is apparently a Betty Boop look alike ) Nora Nadjarian. Pop over and read it. It has inspired me, perhaps it will do the same for you.
How much does where you write affect your writing?
I've been thinking about this for awhile. First, I live in Botswana but I am a naturalised citizen with a very rudimentary ability to speak the main language, Setswana. Under duress I can survive, but I will sound far stupider than I am. This is a handicap to me in many ways. Though Botswana is the only place I can call home and is the place where I have lived the longest, I will always feel like an outsider. Because of this, I sometimes hesitate with a story. Is it authentic for me to write this? Am I allowed from the widest moral sense to write this? I don't want to be like the old colonialists writing from a position of false authority, lies and speculations, interpretations from a foreign perspective. This is my biggest fear. I want to be a Motswana writer.
I also have yet really to write from my true position. I can't write a story about the outsider in this culture. It always comes out sounding bitter or judgemental and I'm not that way. I'm always astounded when I read the words, it's not how I feel. I can't seem to pull out far enough to find truth, so I lapse into another place that is only misunderstood emotion.
I try, when I write about Botswana, to stick to what I know for sure from experience; the experience of others.
And what of my birthplace? What of the effect of America on my writing? Oddly, almost all of my writing set in America is the opposite. Almost always autobiographical. If I try anything else it rings false and is sent to the dustbin. I have only part of the novel that I'm currently working on that is set in America and is not autobiographical in any way. I'm still not sure if that is working.
I find this very curious. Why can I not write from my perspective here in Botswana where I am an outsider who should see better from my view than anyone else's but yet am unable to see from any one's view but my own when I write of the place where I grew up? Is it as simple as the selfishness of a child? Can I only see America through my youthful eyes that lived there? But then what of the quandary here in Botswana? Have I lost me in the crowd?
I have applied for a writers' residency for next year. If I get it, I intend to use the month to work on a novel I am just beginning. In this novel, set in Botswana, I want to try my best to force myself to see from my eyes, the place I have made home. Somehow I hope that leaving here will let me see things slightly clearer. In any case it is an experiment. I'll let you know what happens.