10 Great Resources for Writing Cross-Culturally

Our editors often get asked for advice on writing cross-culturally, so we thought we’d round up some of the best links on the subject. Writing cross-culturally means writing about a culture that isn’t your own (and in this definition of culture, we include race, ethnicity, sexual identity, disabilities, and other identity markers). We have published many books by writers who wrote outside their cultures, and believe that it can be done well; in fact, writing cross-culturally is an essential component of boosting the numbers of books about diverse characters.

That being said, writing cross-culturally must be done thoughtfully and carefully. It requires research. Changing a core piece of a character’s identity is not the same as changing a character’s name or hair style; different cultures provide different lenses through which to view the world, and affect characters in a multitude of small ways.

Here are some good places to start if you are an author writing cross-culturally or thinking about writing cross-culturally:

  1. Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story“: “Chimamanda Adichie’s transformative TED talk, The Dangers of a Single Story, shows us what happens when writers focus on only one kind of story, and how a multitude of voices from minority cultures need to be heard for that danger to pass away.” —Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman
  2. Nisi Shawl, “Transracial Writing for the Sincere“: “Nisi Shawl’s resources for those who want to get it right when they want to write cross-culturally; how to do your research.” —Stacy Whitman
  3. Nisi Shawl, “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation“: “When writing cross-culturally, we need to remember whether we’re acting as an invader, a tourist, or a guest. Nisi Shawl addresses how to watch out for stereotypes, bad dialects, and other problematic portrayals of people of color.” —Stacy Whitman
  4. N.K. Jemisin on describing characters of color in writing, parts one, two, and three
  5. Mitali Perkins’ “Writing Race: A Checklist for Writers
  6. Uma Krishnaswami’s interview with Stacy Whitman, “Why Use Cultural Consultants?
  7. Tips for Writing Cross-Culturally“: Highlights from the Twitter chat between Stacy Whitman and author Karen Sandler
  8. Notes from Stacy Whitman’s SCBWI talk on writing multicultural books
  9. DiversifYA: A great blog featuring interviews with a range of writers with diverse perspectives. A great entrance into thinking about cross-cultural writing in a more nuanced way.
  10. Disability in KidLit: This terrific blog, run by three YA authors, offers great guest posts that explore the intricacies of daily life with a wide range of disabilities.

For further reading, check out Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman’s full list of recommended resources.

Know of any more? Please leave them in the comments below!

7 Comments

  1. Posted January 25, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Great list, Hannah!

    The searing satirical essay, “How To Write About Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina
    (http://www.granta.com/Archive/92/How-to-Write-about-Africa/Page-1) is a must for anyone considering African settings and characters.

    I also loved Uma Krishnaswami’s post on dialogue in the CBC Diversity blog: “Diversity 101: Blurring the Lines Between Familiar and Foreign” (http://www.cbcdiversity.com/post/62720041972/diversity-101-blurring-the-lines-between-familiar-and). It’s full of concrete, useful observations.

  2. Posted January 25, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and for fantasy writers, this post from Malinda Lo and a great discussion in the comments:
    “Writing About Race in Speculative Fiction” (http://www.malindalo.com/2011/05/writing-about-race-in-speculative-fiction/#more-4106)

  3. Posted January 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Such a great resource. Thanks for putting this together!

  4. Posted January 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Lauren Beukes on Writing the Other http://worldsf.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/guest-blog-lauren-beukes-on-writing-the-other/

  5. Posted January 29, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Nisi Shawl (Ed; 2011) ‘Writing and Racial Identity: The WisCon Chronicles, vol.5′ Aqueduct Press.

  6. Hannah
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for your additions!

  7. Posted March 17, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Hey Hannah,

    Can you email me katie@matadornetwork.com. We would love to republish this list on the Network.

    Regards, Katie


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