Jess Row’s latest book, Your Face in Mine, is about a white man who travels to China to undergo racial reassignment. He comes back to Baltimore as a black man. In an interview, after recounting how his former editor told him not to write this novel because he wouldn’t “want the kind of trouble that book is going to cause [him],” he said the following about writing into trouble:
I wanted to write into trouble as much as I could. There’s a really important difference between writing into trouble and writing to be provocative. I think that’s a crucial distinction for anyone that’s writing about race. It’s a distinction that’s lost on a lot of white writers. When you write yourself into trouble, you’re writing about your own vulnerabilities. You’re willing to risk a kind of raw emotional honesty, being reflective and honest and opening up.
Writing to be provocative is writing from a defensive position. You’re basically saying, “I’m going to say something hurtful or offensive, because that’s the only kind of honesty I can have.” You know what I mean? To be provocative is to create a scenario where your own body is not in question. That was the opposite of what I was trying to do. That’s why I wanted to put the white body first in the novel. Instead of just focusing on the black body, I wanted to make Martin’s white body vulnerable.
I really appreciate the distinction between writing into trouble as becoming/being vulnerable and writing to make trouble as being defensive/evasive/provocative.