Opinion

Why I prefer reading #ownvoices

why-i-prefer-readings-ownvoices
Why I prefer reading #ownvoices

I had a discussion with some people I know, where they told me that choosing to read books about POC written by POC and books about women written by women is racist and sexist. It wasn’t a nice discussion, and it was rather strenuous as they did admit to having pushed my buttons deliberately (for fun? –  at least that’s how it felt). I’d been meaning to write about my preference for #ownvoices for a while, but hadn’t found the time- so this discussion did encourage me to finally write this post.

Definition of #ownvoices: Literature about diverse characters written by authors from the same diverse group (rephrased, Corinne Duyvis 2015)

First, I’d like to say that choosing to read #ownvoices books can still exclude authors that write #ownvoices stories. The author has to out themselves, which they might not want (to be forced) to do.

Here is an incomplete list of reasons as to why I prefer to read #ownvoices.


1. Accurate and respectful representation

If a non-#ownvoices book is written by an author that does not share the marginalisation(s) of the character(s), the author depends on stereotypes, generalisations and their subjective perception of people with these marginalisation(s) for the portrayal of the character(s). They do not have first-hand experience. Thus, the representation may not be accurate. 

Authors that write #ownvoices stories live with their marginalisation(s) every day. There are small things that affect their lives due to their marginalisation(s) that may not be known to those that are not part of the group. These aspects may be missing in a non-ownvoices story.

Readers may choose a book because a character is similar to them. However, reading an inaccurate representation can be upsetting, annoying and_or harmful to the reader.

I cannot judge the quality of the representation if I do not share the marginalisation(s) of the character. However, if I choose a book written by an #ownvoices author,the likelihood of the representation of the marginalised character being respectful and accurate is very high.

2. Marginalised authors have a right to tell their story

Marginalised authors have a difficult time getting their books published. The book industry is not very diverse, and neither are the books that are being published. Some authors appropriate stories of marginalised groups for their own profit. This can lead to fewer opportunities for #ownvoices books. Authors from marginalised groups may avoid writing #ownvoices stories in favour of having a secure job and income.

Why should I spend my time reading a non-#ownvoices story, when I could be supporting an #ownvoices author with my time and money?

 3. Possible increase of awareness and interest of publishing houses in #ownvoices books

I’m not going to believe for one second that I alone can change the industry with my reading choices. However, the more people start to choose #ownvoices books over non-#ownvoices, the more the industry will pay attention and choose to publish #ownvoices books.


What’s your opinion on #ownvoices? Do you have a preference?

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13 thoughts on “Why I prefer reading #ownvoices

  1. I agree! #Ownvoices is usually more meaningful because they author connects to the experience on a personal level. That being said non-ownvoices can be good too. My most recent example is Rebel of the Sands was not ownvoices and I found it very offensive. However, The Wrath and The Dawn was very good but also not ownvocies. Still, I would love to see the a MENA inspired story written by someone from the region.

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    1. I agree that non-#ownvoices can be good, especially if the author does thorough research or hires sensitivity readers. However, they are still writing from a second-hand experience. Thus I will be always prefer to read an #ownvoices book, as I think we don’t only need diversity at book level but in the industry itself. The risk that authors might write something inaccurate or harmful, and people believe it does exist.

      An example: somebody told me that it’s obvious that there aren’t many POC in Harry Potter because there aren’t many POC in England either.

      However, it’s not like I refuse to read non-#ownvoices. It’s just a preference. If the story sounds good, I’ll try non-#ownvoices for sure. I did like the representation in The Wrath and the Dawn (I’m not from a MENA region), however I found the plot very problematic. So I had very mixed feelings about that book.

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  2. #Ownvoices is always better 100%. IMO, no matter the amount of research an author does, it will never compare to living the experience of someone with a marginalized identity. There’s a reason primary sources are preferred in academia.

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  3. Great post! I think the important thing is to emphasise ownvoices stories of certain rep over ones that are not. However, as you said, the industry needs to change, and I’ll always support marginalised writers, even if they’re writing cishet white able-bodied etc characters and/or non-ownvoices identities (if it’s respectful rep, obviously).

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  4. While it doesn’t *always* affect whether I pick up a book, I’ve become more aware of supporting #ownvoices and marginalised authors, not least because the online bookish community still has a lot of misconceptions.

    Naming no names, I’ve come across reviewers who criticise rep as gimmicky or wish-fulfilling… when it’s #ownvoices rep.

    I’ve also very patiently explained instances where non-own-voices authors haven’t had the skill or understanding to handle a particular scene, and been told I’m being unfair *shrugs* Just keep swimming!

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    1. I love your ‘Just keep swimming!’ tagline. 😀

      I always explain why I’m suspicious of white people writing in the perspective of a POC person, specifically in my experience, a brown person. I just feel like they seriously need sensitivity readers to be able to write a good representation. It’s just too wishy-washy otherwise.

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