← BLOG – Where’s the Bloody Long Original Groovy acronym?Politically Incorrect Characters: or, what if my character says “retard?”Posted on January 31, 2011 by Pam Parker
Antonya Nelson is an American author whose publication credits, teaching credentials, fellowships and awards would lead you to think she could write whatever she wants. And, don’t get me wrong, she can and she does. Quick side-note – she’s also an amazingly gifted instructor and I will be forever grateful for the privilege of working with her in a mentorship on my novel last summer at Tin House. I was doubly-blessed to also be in a workshop with her husband, Robert Boswell. Photo below is from the conference.
Bos, Toni and I TinHouse 2010
But, in these politically-correct times we create our stories in, authors sometimes face flack when their characters stray outside of politically correct boundaries. With her permission, I am quoting Ms. Nelson’s recent entry on her facebook page:
“Dear Ms. Nelson,
Congratulations on the publication of your book Bound. I just finished reading it and really enjoyed it. Your use of the word “retarded” was quite disappointing. The use of the r-word has become commonplace and your use only helps to prolong it’s acceptance. The word is derogatory, like racial and religious epithets…. EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY BE EXPRESSING THE POINT OF VIEW OF A CHARACTER…” Ms. Nelson goes on to say that the capitalization is hers, but within an hour, 22 comments filled her wall. Some were authors sharing their own experiences with blow-back. It made me recall a homophobic comment an old geezer character of mine made and my anxiety about leaving it in the story. Ultimately, I did because for the story to remain glued to my character’s point of view, to his truth, the comment had to remain.
So, writers, wondering, when have you fretted (or not) about the political incorrectness of a character?