Defaults and Diversity

Nick Burd, author of the amazing, Vast Fields of Ordinary came to talk to us the other day about his book, and about writing YA lit in general. It was a pretty enlightening conversation, and he said a couple of things that gave me a lot to think about and digest.

The first was about race. The main character of Vast Fields of Ordinary is white - most of the characters in the book are white. It's set in Iowa, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau is 90.6% White. That is a whole lot of percent. Nick said that he chose to make the main character White because (I'm paraphrasing here) writing about a Black person in Iowa necessitates writing about a whole mess of stuff that this novel isn't about. I see the truth in that, I absolutely do. Our cultural default is still set to White, Heterosexual, Judeo-Christian Male. To a certain extent any deviation from that requires explanation and exposition. But what if we stopped explaining? Maybe part of shifting or eliminating the default is to stop explaining why something isn't it?

The second was about sexuality. Nick's next YA book is about two straight boys because (paraphrasing!) in writing about gay teens again, he would be afraid of writing the same book twice. It got me to wondering how many authors think, "Man, if I write about straight kids again . . . well, you know." or "Crap, here I am with another novel about heterosexual teens. I need to take it easy on the P and V, you know?"

Which got the class to talking about how well-represented gay boys are these days, and how under or poorly rep'd gay girls are. The requisite "Why is that?" was tossed around and I said nothing because I have some serious class discussion anxiety. Maybe the idea of our cultural default is at work here, too. White, homosexual, J-C, male is only one step away from default. White, homosexual, J-C, female is two steps away. Twice as far . . . takes twice as long? God, that's overly simplistic, but I think it still holds some water.

We need to start leaping away from the default. Over and over again. Until there are so many "outliers" that the idea of "regular" or "normal" or "other" is obliterated in a mess of everyone. Because, hey, just because we live in a messed up White, heterosexist, religiously intolerant patriarchy doesn't make it right or normal.


  1. Wow can I send a link to this post to the class? This is a really brilliant blog. I picked up on these pieces as well, but you really captured them here. I mean, it's brilliant. Seriously. Not to mention that I think you're correct on all counts.