The Untold Story Of Lyndie B. Hawkins In 2019, a novel by a new author, Gail Shepherd, arrived in bookstores. The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins tells the story of a young white girl growing up in the South. The book has been well received, but it is not the book Shepherd intended to write. In her original drafts, Shepherd, a white author, created a Lyndie who was Vietnamese-American, and dealing with issues of race in the deep South. This week we look at what it means to be a storyteller in a time of caustic cultural debate and ask when, if ever, is it okay to tell a story that is not your own?

Culture Wars And The Untold Story Of Lyndie B. Hawkins

The Untold Story Of Lyndie B. Hawkins

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Sean Gladwell/Getty Images
Chapter one typed on paper on typewriter.
Sean Gladwell/Getty Images

In her mid-fifties, Gail Shepherd set out to write her first novel. She invented a character, Lyndie B. Hawkins. Lyndie was a 12-year-old girl, the daughter of a white war veteran and a Vietnamese woman. She was growing up in the deep South, coping with the legacy of southern racism and family strife.

Over the next two years, Gail Shepherd wrote ferociously. When she was done, she'd completed the manuscript for her book, The True History of Lyndie B Hawkins. She shopped it around, and an agent at a prominent publishing house quickly snapped it up. A publication date was set.

The cover of Gail Shepherd's book, which was published in 2019. Penguin Random House hide caption

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Penguin Random House

But this happened to be a moment of soul searching for the publishing world. Critics were charging that for too long, white people had had a stranglehold over the industry. The writers were white. The editors were white. So were the publishers. It wasn't just the industry that was a problem, but the narratives themselves, the way they were framed.

As Shepherd edited her manuscript for publication, she began to feel uneasy. Had she, a white woman, stepped over a line by making her central character an Asian-American girl? Could she tell an authentic story about someone who didn't share her skin color?

Shepherd's soul searching gets to the heart of questions about what it means to be a story teller: is inhabiting a viewpoint that is not your own an act of empathy, or a form of cultural appropriation?

Additional Resources:

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins, by Gail Shepherd