Being an outsider, writing the outsider

The other day I went on an aimless walk while listening to an interview with the writer Nnedi Okorafor. She’s a very interesting interview subject overall, but one thing she said in particular really struck me:

I’ve always existed on a lot of fault lines, and that does fuel what I write.

She then went on to list a few ways she’s felt like “an outsider in multiple important groups in [her] life.”

Since publishing The Quiet is Loud, I’ve been asked often about its themes of identity and belonging. These themes were there very consciously from the beginning, but until I was directly asked about them I’d never examined why I felt drawn to write about them. What was it about identity and belonging that resonated with me so much, and why did I choose those characters to help me explore those themes?

When I was interviewed by my friend Maria Bolaños in 2021, she asked me about the role identity saliency plays in my life – how we conceptualize ourselves and how we present ourselves depending on a situation. Answering that question crystallized everything for me. I realized that my own mixed-race identity, which had often caused me to feel like a bit of an outsider within all my cultures, influenced my entire worldview.

In my latest Substack post, I go into more detail about these realizations and how they formed the fundamental basis of my writing career. I send out an email once a month with writing updates or writerly musings – I’d love to have you join me! You can read the latest one or subscribe here.

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