The Power of Own Voice Literature

By Ella Deignan

Own voice literature, which highlights marginalized voices and experiences, is critical in education and reconstructing this overwhelming narrative of a single story. #OwnVoices, a term coined by young adult author Corinne Duyvis, refers to books about characters from underrepresented/marginalized groups in which the author shares the same identity. (Orange County Library System) When recalling the first time I read an Own Voice book, I concluded that The Hate U Give, a middle school book club reading, was the first piece of Own Voice literature I read. While this book was critical to learning about and understanding a different worldview than my own and exposing me to the complexities in society, looking back, I feel as though this introduction to Own Voice literature was a little bit late. Although since then, children and young adult books have expanded their Own Voice genre, the insufficiency of this genre in my generation significantly failed us in giving us the ability to create a more complex worldview early on. Although these books may have some heavy topics that are too dense for younger ages, children must see all kinds of people represented in the books they are reading. That is their number one tool of education and exposure to the world around them.

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Ted Talk titled The danger of a single story, she speaks on the overwhelming amount of American and European literature she read as a child and how that greatly affected her narrative on a single story. Adichie, an author from Nigeria, speaks on this profoundly European single story created by the books she read, in which the characters were white, blue-eyed, and had very little in common with her. The abundance of foreign books and the lack of African books allowed for this creation of a single story, one with which Adichie could not identify. Adichie notes that these American and British books “stirred [her] imagination, opening up new walls for [her]”. However, she states, “the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature.” 

When looking for literature, it is essential to note and seek out marginalized voices in literature. Doing so can educate and stretch our worldview on simply understanding a different culture/worldview, or going further and talking about more complex issues, evident in The Hate U Give. Own Voice literature allows those largely represented in literature to change their mindset and viewpoint by reading and learning from marginalized voices. More importantly, Own Voice literature allows those underrepresented to feel heard and valued in literature and have characters that they can relate to.

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