"Far from being an indicator of the demise of western civilization, multicultural literature is the affirmation of the most fundamental principle of a democracy: to give all people an equal voice.... Each voice is valid and valuable. And the more open we are to listening to these diverse voices, the more enriched and enlarged our own lives will be."

Amy Ling, Chinese American scholar-author (deceased)      

"As a writer, I've tried to consider most importantly my life as a Native American who is absolutely related to the land and all that that means culturally, politically, personally. Nothing is separate from me in that sense, and I am included with the earth and its aspects and details."

Simon J. Ortiz, Native American poet of Acoma Pueblo heritage      

"As a writer, you carry the world inside you. I carry a map of Kerala in my heart. I walk by Central Park [in New York City], see the trees and find inspiration for a story or poem set in Kerala."

Meena Alexander, Indian American poet, essayist and novelist       

"Literature is part of culture, culture is that meeting-place. We must care where people come from in order to respect the fact that they have origins, they have parents and grandparents, they have music, dancing, poetry. There is great pleasure in diversity."

D.H. Melhem, Lebanese American poet      

"If you look at all my work, ...that commonality, this thread that runs through them all is this need to understand where you came from in order to understand what you must do or how you can move from the present to any future..."

August Wilson, black American playwright       

"Even when I'm praised, so much of the time what they say over and over is, `Oh, it's so American!' as though that needs to be said. I still have to contend with, do I speak English? I could never have written the title story in Who's Irish?...until I was firmly established as a writer of English. It's an ongoing problem for Asian Americans, but I also have to say that it's interesting to me, because that's where the inner self bumps up against society. We're all constructs, we're all compromises between what we've experienced and how we're perceived."

Gish Jen, Chinese American novelist      

"My mission, if you will, is to get Americans to realize that we have to work together to second-by-second redefine what American culture is and what the total heritage is. I can be just as much an American writer writing the kind of material that I do as a [Don] Delillo writing his last novel about baseball. There are many Americans, and it's sensitizing people to accept us as part of the fabric and not just simply adumbrations."

Bharati Mukherjee, Indian American novelist      

"When one is telling a story and one is using words to tell the story, each word that one is speaking has a story of its own, too. Often the speakers, or tellers, will go into these word stories, creating an elaborate structure of stories within stories. This structure, which becomes very apparent in the actual telling of a story, informs contemporary Pueblo writing and storytelling as well as the traditional narratives. This perspective on narrative -- of story within story, the idea that one story is only the beginning of many stories and the sense that stories never truly end -- represents an important contribution of Native American cultures to the English language."

Leslie Marmon Silko, a Laguna Pueblo (Native American) writer of fiction and poetry       

"Language is a combat between individuals, a combat with the self. Language betrays us. It doesn't always do what we want it to do. I love that disarray. It's where we're human."

Anna Deavere Smith, black American playwright      

"My poems and stories often begin with the voices of our neighbors, mostly Mexican American, always inventive and surprising. I never get tired of mixtures."

Naomi Shihab Nye, Arab American poet of Palestinian extraction       

"My influences are sometimes the language of ceremony and transformation, sometimes science. I research my work and think of how to translate a different world view, a different way to live with this world. I try to keep up on contemporary poetry, not only American, but in translation and from other countries as well."

Linda Hogan, Native American poet of Chickasaw heritage       

"For me, multicultural literature is a source of vitality for American culture, and for the English language. There always have been marginal forces that have broadened the mainstream, throughout the history of American literature. They develop, and flourish and enrich the literature and the language. Diversity is always a good thing. It's the source of life, and the richness and abundance of a culture."

Ha Jin, Chinese American novelist, National Book Award winner, 1999       

"All literature, and certainly Chicano literature, reflects, in its more formal aspects, the mythos of the people, and the writings speak to the underlying philosophical assumptions which form the particular world view of culture... In a real sense, the mythologies of the Americas are the only mythologies of all of us, whether we are newly arrived or whether we have been here for centuries."

Rudolfo Anaya, Hispanic American novelist       

"The mainstream of American literature is being redefined. It's no longer a literature of `the other,' or the margins. It is reflecting more and more who we are as Americans. People writing in this new tradition are quite privileged, I think, in that they are at interesting borders and crossroads of culture. They're a part of it, and also slightly outside of it. It's a unique position, perspective and time. Also, the borders are where a lot of interesting literature is happening, where cultures are rubbing up against one another, where different languages are struggling to accommodate one another. And English is changing because of this."

Cristina Garcia, Cuban American novelist       

Back to top | U.S. Society & Values, February 2000