Why Does “Own Voice” Writing Matter for Readers? by M.D. Neu

Today I’d like to talk about own voice writing. Own voice writing refers to books or stories that are written by authors who share the same identity or experience as the characters they write about. An example is a novel about a transgender person written by a transgender author, or a book about a refugee written by a refugee. Own voice writing is not a genre, but a way of highlighting the authenticity and diversity of voices throughout the literary world. Own voice writing is not about gatekeeping topics from being written by non-own voice authors.

Why is Own voice writing important for readers?

  • Own voice writing can challenge stereotypes and biases in a way that non-Own voice writing can’t. Many books that feature diverse characters are written by authors who do not belong to the group they are writing about. This is not a bad thing, in fact, doing so keeps stories reflective of society. However, showing diverse characters in this way may rely on stereotypes, clichés, or inaccurate portrayals of those characters. This can lead to some in these communities feeling frustrated, unheard, and unseen and can reinforce harmful assumptions and prejudices about marginalized people and erase the complexity and diversity of their experience. Non-own voice writing may also show these groups in an unrealistic or unnatural way that can be harmful to these people.  Own voice writing, on the other hand, can offer a more nuanced and realistic representation of diverse characters, and challenge the dominant narratives that often marginalize these communities.
  • Own voice writing can promote empathy and understanding. Reading own voice books can help readers learn more about different cultures, perspectives, and experiences that they may not be familiar with, or that they may have misconceptions about. By reading stories that are told from the inside, readers can gain a deeper insight into the joys, struggles, hopes, and fears of diverse characters, and empathize with their emotions and situations in a real and honest way. Own voice writing can also help readers discover the common humanity that connects the reader with people who are different from them and fosters a sense of respect and appreciation for diversity.
  • Own voice writing can empower and inspire. Reading own voice books can also have a positive impact on the readers who share the same identity or experience as the characters. For many marginalized readers, finding own voice books can be a rare and precious opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature and to feel validated and affirmed by their own stories. 
  • Celebrating their community. Own voice writing can also provide role models and inspiration for marginalized readers who can see characters overcome challenges, achieve goals, go on grand adventures, find and experience love, and celebrate their identity. Own voice writing can encourage marginalized readers to tell their own stories and to contribute to the diversity of voices in literature.

Own voice writing is not only important for readers but also for writers, publishers, and society at large. By supporting and promoting own voice writing, we can create a more inclusive and diverse literary landscape, where everyone’s stories are welcomed, valued, and heard. Own voice writing can enrich our reading experience, broaden our horizons, and transform our world by bringing forward writers and novels that we might not have found or experienced otherwise.

3 thoughts on “Why Does “Own Voice” Writing Matter for Readers? by M.D. Neu”

  1. Beautifully put. I think the problem with trying to build a bridge between our voice and a different one is when we assume, use stereotypes, rather than truly trying to find that voice. Listening to own voices can help release us from the trap we don’t even know stereotypes hold us within. Speaking with our own voices allows others to know that we’re here.

  2. Thanx so much for this. As an own-voices writer, I strive to make my work accurately reflect people who share my identity, even as that category allows for variations within it. As an own-voices reader, I welcome the validation I feel when I encounter people “just like me.” And as you say above, own-voices writing does not attack or invalidate works by those who do not share our experiences, but allows a comparison of what those inside and those outside see and say about us.


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