Mitali Perkins has a beautiful post on story and language and growing up, on mitali's fire escape. It made me think of the mix of stories I heard when I was a child growing up in India. Today I look back affectionately on the Tamil stories my parents told: jester tales, stories of gods and demons, animal stories, stories of magic and long-ago people. They were so vibrant and alive that when I was very young I couldn't differentiate between myth and legend and the equally lively stories I eavesdropped furiously on, about relatives and neighbors and what they were up to.
Then I began to read. Literacy was magical and exciting. But it had an unexpected effect. It thrust a wedge between that realm of interwoven tales and new others. The new others that came to me in print began to be the ones that I privileged. They came in shiny paperback mostly from England. They hardly even acknowledged that India existed, and when they did they often showed it in a light that was less than flattering. So I didn't even have to live in a foreign land that didn't value my culture, to have this experience of what happens when you don't see yourself in a book. Rather as an adult I now have to look back to see that my own culture back in the 1960's had not yet learned to value itself. We had no shiny new books that showed our world. Not yet.
In a very real way, this is why I write. I think I understood the text and subtext of those books I read--perhaps understood them all too well. Marion Dane Bauer always says we write to fill the holes in our childhoods. Don't get me wrong, books and reading were incredibly important to my younger self. But they also created a hole in my life because they implied that the stories I'd loved until then were not important, not cool, not worthy. It's a hole I've spent the last decade trying to fill.