HTML Giant – “A Conversation with Andrew Ervin”
MINOR: Extraordinary Renditions does a thing that some say fiction ought not do — it assumes the points of view of characters from different
cultures than the writer’s. Writers used to do this all the time, but it seemed to get controversial around the time of the civil rights movement — the furor in some quarters over Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, to give one example, and the subsequent defense by James Baldwin on the grounds that Styron was doing a thing fiction writers have an obligation to do, by putting himself “in the skin of Nat Turner.”
ERVIN: It was never a question to me if I had the right to write from different cultural perspectives. As a writer of immense privilege, I felt it was my responsibility to do so. Not that I was trying to make some sort of grand, dogmatic political statement; there were simply some stories that for various reasons I felt needed telling. Yes, the second of these three novellas, “Brooking the Devil,” uses many of the tropes of the captivity narrative. The relatively new genre of the neo-slave narrative—begun in large part by Styron—is the single most important tradition in contemporary American letters. Where would we be without Beloved and The Wind Done Gone and Flight to Canada? For a white writer like myself to ignore race, and our nation’s racist history (and present) would be unconscionable. Whatever people may think of the results, I learned a great deal about myself in inhabiting these people so seemingly unlike myself (an elderly Holocaust survivor, a black U.S. soldier, and a bi-sexual woman) and came to appreciate that they’re all autobiographical in different ways. I learned what I have in common with them. We do contain multitudes, as Whitman wrote. The best thing about fiction, I think, it that it can grant us access to personalities and places and cultures other than our own.