DiverifYA: Coco Nichole
|November 16, 2015||Posted by Lucinda under Cultural and Ethnic, DiversifYA|
1. How do you identify yourself?
Normally, I identify as Black American. My father’s side of the family comes from the Bahamas. My mom is Bi-racial (White and Black). I grew around a lot of West Indian immigrants, so I would classify myself as culturally Afro-Caribbean. I am also female and heterosexual.
2. What did it feel like growing up as a Black American?
Growing up as a Black female was interesting for me. I definitely felt like my family was unlike many Black American households. Having family members who are immigrants makes for a different family dynamic and I often felt out of place around other young Black people. I should also mention that I was born and spent most of my childhood in South Florida. There I was surrounded by diversity. My friends ranged in ethnicity (Black, Latino, Jewish, Asian, White). Then I moved to Georgia, where there was not as much diversity and people (even at my young age) had very rigid expectations for race. It was all very confusing for me. I got teased for being an “oreo” by my Black peers because of the way I spoke. It didn’t take long for me to get over that. Thanks to my mom’s uplifting attitude, I had a strong sense of self and only needed a few close friends to be content.
No matter what environment I was in, I gravitated towards diversity (sorry if that sounds weird, but it’s true) and tried to expose myself to different cultures as much as I could. For example, hosting foreign exchange students and joining a Multicultural sorority in college. I have always and still find much joy in learning about people different from myself.
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
I will answer this from the perspective of being a Black writer of Fantasy Fiction. Growing up, I loved reading Fantasy. But at an early age I started to notice that not many of the characters looked like me, my family members, or my friends. And even if the story did sprinkle in some POC characters, the protagonist was almost always White. At one point I assumed that Black main characters were only appropriate in Street/Urban lit or Historical fiction on slavery. Sad, isn’t it?
Writing from diverse perspectives never started out as a personal agenda for me, but when I started to take writing seriously at the age of ten, I found myself exploring underrepresented mythologies for potential writing material. I could already see that the YA Fantasy shelves were loaded with Norse and Greek Mythology-inspired worlds. So I turned to the myths of Latin America, Meso-America, the Indigenous North Americans, the Caribbean, and Polynesia for my inspiration. As I matured, I discovered writers like Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Sherman Alexie, who served as my role models.
Long story short, I find writing from the perspective of POC characters or in the environments of Non-Western cultures to be a very fulfilling and exciting experience! My dream is to reach out to young readers that were like me — admirers of the fantasy genre, but unable to see themselves reflected in the main heroine/hero.
As for other perks… Well, I just naturally draw attention for being a Non-White author. Especially in YA Fantasy where there are not a whole lot of us (especially Black women). So it makes it easier to stand out as an author. And boy, do I love to stand out.
4. What do you wish people knew about being a Black writer of Fantasy fiction?
I’ve been on a lot of fantasy forums in which people bring up the lack of POC characters. For the most part, writers are still very sensitive about this subject (at least in fantasy). Many writers believe that there is not really a point to including more diversity in a genre that they feel already has enough diversity (as in elves, dragons, dwarves, etc). But what many do not realize is that much those characteristics of fantasy come from Western cultures and Western myths. Western culture is not bad, but it is ubiquitous and overshadows everything else.
So if there is one thing I want people to know about Multicultural Fantasy is that it is not exclusive, but rather an inclusive subgenre. Most of my readers comment on how unique my story is. They definitely recognize it as fantasy, but it’s not the same repeated ideas and world view.
5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?
I’m going to interpret this as biggest stereotypes associated with POC/lgbt characters:
(1) Their only purpose is the token. They never fill the spot as protagonist. They are simply there to serve as the Black best friend, the gay best friend, or what have you.
(2) They don’t belong in fantasy. POC/lgbt characters only belong in historical fiction, general fiction, etc.
(3) They cannot be identifiable to large audiences.
Honestly, everyone who reads my stories knows that all of my heroines or Non-White. (Sofia Aguilar — Colombian/Brazilian, Monica Kim — Korean American, Remmy Azizi — Pakistani, Naya Burton — Black American) But guess what? Not a single reader has approached me and told me that they couldn’t connect with my characters because they weren’t “White enough.”
(4) Having POC/lgbt characters will always inevitably end up offending someone. So why bother?
This is why we have to do research! If you are going to write a book on pirates, but you don’t have a clue about pirate culture, you go and read about it before attempting to write it. I had do a lot of research and even some one on one interviews with people from South America before I wrote my novel, Sun Kissed, which takes place in Brazil. I didn’t know anything about the Portuguese language, Brazilians, or Indigenous Brazilians. So I did my best to read up and talk to people from that culture before making my book go live. I even took a semester of Portuguese in college to get a better idea of modern Brazilian culture and the slang.
BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
My advice to writing diverse characters would be to go for it! There are so many readers out there who don’t see themselves in the books they love. It touches my heart whenever someone thanks me for representing their culture and perspectives.