Why #OwnVoices & #OwnYourOwn Matter to Me   Leave a comment

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I’m not part of the demographic for #OwnVoices and #OwnYourOwn, but I strongly believe in their message. Why? Because books open worlds to anyone who reads them.

Think about the voices that shaped who you are today. When you’re very young, your parents and teachers begin to mold your view of the world. As you become a teenager, your friends and social networks took on ever-increasing importance. That’s enough for some, but what if the box society chose for you doesn’t seem to fit? If you’re like me, you turn to books to explore a larger world, always searching for one that does fit. You look for role models, real or fictional, to provide the pieces that seem to be missing.

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate that my parents encouraged reading anything and everything I could lay my hands on. What spending money I had generally went towards buying more books, the public library sustained my need for more than I could afford. Mysteries, thrillers, and coming-of-age stories introduced me to new ways of looking at life and other people. Historical fiction taught me that social expectations were far different even a hundred years ago than in modern society. Science fiction and fantasy opened brand new worlds for me to imagine living in. All of them opened my mind to possibilities that I wasn’t likely to see otherwise.

One of the books I’m currently reading is “The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” by Joshua Hammer. It’s about successful efforts to first preserve thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had been collected and handed down through generations, and then save them from Al Qaeda, who sought to destroy them. Because the book is both well-researched and engaging, I’m learning a lot about a part of the world I know very little about (specifically Mali and generally the Middle East), but I can’t help wondering how the narrative might have been different if it was written by someone native to the area.

That is not to say that Joshua Hammer should not have written this book—I enjoy it far too much to say that. I believe there is room for books from the point of view of BOTH visitors and natives to every area. Without such a mix, how are people like me to ever achieve the balanced viewpoint that leads to true understanding of complex events?

I support #OwnVoices and #OwnYourOwn because I believe writers from within under-served groups can open their world so that people like me can better understand it. And I WANT to understand.

Whether they write fiction or fact, memoir or biography or history or worlds that have never been, they can bring their unique perspectives to everyone. Including them detracts nothing from those already writing.

The maps at the start of this article were made just over a century apart but they show a vast expansion in the known world. Hearing from more voices expands our world view in an even more substantial way. And that can only be good for us all.
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Posted June 24, 2016 by Leoma Retan in Uncategorized

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