Study Hall, Tuesday, February 8: Writing While “Gypsy”

What are your building blocks?

I’m always going to prefer bright colors and a little bling. My characters will likely always be dancing and singing and maybe making a stew. There will be romance and adventures and a touch of magic.

Sure, some of these things are stereotypes, or representations of some vitsae (clans) and not others. But they are my reality.

Every woman I know is not going to be thrown out of her clan for being educated and writing, like Zola in the book of that title by Colum McCann, which is a thinly disguised portrait of Bronislawa Wajs, or Papusza, as she is known familiarly—a famous and somewhat tragic Romani poet. (One agent told me my characters weren’t Roma enough, like the ones she read about by McCann, who is not Roma, but did a hell of a lot of research, so respect to him. Still . . . No, the Scottish and English Roma with whom I’m familiar are not the same as the Roma who live in Poland, in several ways.) No, some of my characters will be treasured daughters and will get in entirely different kinds of trouble. We are not all tragic or have to leave our families in disgrace for beings ourselves.

Some, like the character Ruth in my second novel (yet to be published) will be the children of Holocaust survivors who lived through the most harrowing circumstances, but still know how to dance, and laugh, and love. This experience is not one the world wants to allot to Roma, as our recent experience with Whoopi Goldberg showed, since she and her network left us out of her apology and apparently still fails to recognize that we are not white. A streaming service, Netflix, chooses still to air comedian Jimmy Carr’s special, His Dark Material, in which he calls the Nazi genocide against Roma and Sinti a ”positive”—that is, justified. Roma and our friends are calling and cancelling our Net flix subscriptions. Will it help? Will they pull his show? We’ll see. In the meantime, I will write Ruth as true to the life of those I know as possible.

My point is that we are all working within a set of societal expectations, and as writers we can show the people behind myths like dancing ”Gypsies” or tell real though fictional stories based on history, like Ruth in the Holocaust, or we can break out of those expectations altogether and write something entirely new to us, or about people the likes of which we’ve never met, like the wonderful science fiction characters in books by the incredibly talented Caren Gussof Sumption, who happens to be Roma. Would that video game makers and other speculative fiction writers would consult her about being ”Gypsy” while morphing into other life forms.

Whatever we do, whatever we say, we are accountable for it to ourselves and our readers.

What realities or rebellion against reality are you working with or againt?

And if you’re so inclined, the number for Netflix is on the image above.

One response to “Study Hall, Tuesday, February 8: Writing While “Gypsy””

  1. Glenda Bailey-Mershon Avatar

    Thank you all for reading!


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