Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sharing Stories Across Boundaries and Borders

I'm really excited to meet Alice McLerran at the SCBWI writing workshop in November (Are you interested? Click here for more details!). I don't have her book The Mountain that Loved a Bird yet but it's another one I've added to my To-Buy-Soon list (next to Elias and His Trees and Baha!, of course). I know I'll learn a whole new art of children's writing from her.

I was prompted to sign up for the workshop when I found out that she is a Third Culture Kid as well and has fulfilled her dreams of sharing stories across borders and other cultures. After more Googling, I chanced upon something McLerran wrote (highlights are mine):

Those of us writers who choose to craft stories for children frequently are parents, and our first experiments in the genre may well be bedtime tales created for our own offspring. Discovering in ourselves the ability bring delight to those we love can be heady stuff. As we turn to writing and our audience becomes a wider one, what ambition could be more natural and seductive than wanting to create stories to which children everywhere might listen wide-eyed? Whenever we have a story translated to another language and offered in another culture, we come closer to the ultimate fantasy: sharing what we create with every child on the planet.

An ambition so far-reaching has the clear odor of hubris, and we usually keep it to ourselves. In any case, we quickly learn that translated editions are normally arranged not by those of us who create the stories, but rather by our publishers. Traditionally, most deals are made at large international book fairs, and they normally involve agreements between publishers in nations of like economic standards.

Still, cross-cultural publishing can happen in quite different ways as well. When it does, the process can take on new richness, lead to unexpected serendipities.

... in my heart I know that when a story of mine is shared in another culture, it is not the thought that I am facilitating international understanding that most excites me. Nor is it the conviction that sharing stories across borders helps nurture a global literature that enriches us all—although I believe that as well.

My real source of pleasure is the image of a child on the other side of the planet, a child my eyes will never see. He listens to words read in a language I myself cannot understand, yet it is my story that holds him. The story enters his imagination as easily as if he were my own child snuggling next to me, my voice in his ear.

That this can happen seems to me something as close to magic as any writer can wish.

I had some sort of epiphany (I forget exactly when though) about writing stories that would appeal particularly for Third Culture Kids like me. I'm not sure how many TCK writers there are in the world, but my stories would be helpful for TCKs growing up in a new culture, culturally rich (yet a little confused), excited yet homesick, feeling out-of-place everwhere and not quite fitting in with everyone else.

So... write, Nikki, write... Have something to show Alice when she gets here!

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