Don’t Write Alone | Interviews

Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward Believe Learning Often Involves Making Mistakes

Ruth Joffre talks with Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward about the craft book and class ‘Writing the Other,’ which offers a practical guide to writing about other cultures with care, attention, respect, and research.

Writing the Othera bookan organization

Nisi ShawlCynthia Ward

Ruth Joffre: The origin of can be traced back to an experience at the 1992 Clarion West Writers Workshop, in which a classmate stated that it would be a mistake to write about people of different ethnicities because you might get it terribly wrong. How did this moment shape or change your thinking on the craft of writing, as well as your careers as writers?

RJ: In the book, you introduce the acronym ROAARS, which stands for race, (sexual) orientation, age, ability, religion, and sex. How did you arrive at this acronym? Was it important to you that it sound fierce and empowering? (In my mind, it sounds like a mighty roar, like a dinosaur’s.)

RJ: Since 2005, when the book was published, what changes have you seen in the way people think and write about ROAARS categories and other differences? For example, one of the differentiators you left out—by design—was class, a topic of frequent discussion today as workers organize, unionize, and fight for their rights.

Writing the Other

RJ: In the book, you include many writing exercises and prompts to help readers and students understand different concepts presented in the text, as well as to explore their own ideas and misconceptions. Why was it important to you to include this interactive element?

RJ: You note in the book how uncomfortable people can be when discussing otherness and ROAARS categories, particularly race. In the classroom setting, how do you as teachers lead students through this discomfort and use the teachings of the book in a virtual or in-person setting?

RJ: In your years of teaching for Writing the Other, what have been some of the most common questions students ask and how have you responded to them?

Novelists, Inc.

RJ: What other craft books and resources do you recommend?

About Writing

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