When you’re reading a novel, do you ever question the authenticity of the characters because they’re different from the author? Can male authors create realistic female characters? Can female authors create convincing men? What about white authors writing black characters and vice versa? These questions have been around since the beginning of literature. When the male/female issue is raised, critics like to cite the rich characterization of Madame Bovary, a testament to Gustave Flaubert’s understanding of a particular woman. And yet even great novelists can stumble. I’ve always contended that the male characters in Toni Morrison’s Sula are not as complex as the female characters and that the novel (excellent as it is) suffers for that.
When The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron was published in 1967, black critics banded together to denounce Styron and the novel.