Cultural Appropriation in Fiction and Who Gets to Write What, featuring Kirstin Chen

Sep 10, 2018

Kirstin Chen

In this episode Brooke and Grant share the definition of cultural appropriation from Amandla Stenberg’s YouTube video, in which she says, “Cultural appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion cool or funny when the privilege take it from themselves.” Your hosts explore this topic with guest Kirstin Chen, who’s given a lot of thought to this subject, having written novels in which she’s embodying characters of cultures different from her own. This episode includes tips for writers about how to write realistic characters, and also best practices to avoid stereotyping and clichés.


Kirstin Chen is the author of the novels Bury What We Cannot Take (Little A, 2018) and Soy Sauce for Beginners, a Kindle First selection, an O, The Oprah Magazine “book to pick up now,” and a Glamour book club pick. She was the fall 2017 NTU-NAC National Writer in Residence in Singapore, and has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Her short stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Hobart, Pank, and the Best New Singaporean Short Stories, among others. Born and raised in Singapore, she currently resides in San Francisco, where she is working on a novel about the counterfeit handbag trade. Find Kirstin on Twitter @kirstin_chen.

Writing Action: Character Sketching

Come up with a character who has a different experience than you. Consider that person’s qualities, traits, what they look like, how they feel about their place in the world. Try this for one or two characters and see what comes up for you. After you’re done, consider what the challenges were. What felt easy or hard about coming up with these characters?

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