Writing Multicultural Characters

by Medeia Sharif

When I first started writing novels in the mid-90s, my early drawer manuscripts had what I’d call mainstream characters. Their names were Julia, Merrill, and Vivian. They had a variety of hair and skin colors, but none of them were anything specific. They weren’t Arabic, Hispanic, or Asian, although they did come across as American, minus any hyphenation. Those types of characters were who I mainly read about, so that seeped into my writing.

One of my drawer manuscripts written from 2002 to 2005 had Kurdish characters, and that was the first time I dipped into diversity in writing. I was itching to write this book. It was even good enough to be represented by two reputable literary agents at two different times. But the novel was too cluttered, I revised it to the point that it was unrecognizable, and I shelved it—although I ended up picking various scenes to reuse in different projects.

In 2007, I wrote half of a manuscript that took place in Egypt. I stopped writing it because I felt I didn’t have the culture and setting complete in my head. I recently rewrote it as a middle grade, feeling more confident about all the elements this time. Also in 2007-2008, I wrote BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. The main character was a bubbly, worrisome teenager whose voice came out clear both in my mind and on the pages. That was my debut released in 2011.

Since then I’ve been busy writing other things. All my manuscripts since BRE have embraced diversity in some way. SECRETEST. BOYFRIEND. EVER. is the sequel to BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. THE WINTER I LOST ALL MY PRETTY HAIR, a contemporary YA novel, has a Turkish main character. VITAMINS AND DEATH, another YA novel, doesn’t mention people’s ethnicities, but the characters are certainly varied. These three books will be released this year. With my background and the fact that I’ve lived in New York City and Miami, diversity is a reality and a must both on and off the pages.

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I’m a Kurdish-American author who was born in New York City, and I presently call Miami my home. I received my master’s degree in psychology from Florida Atlantic University. After becoming a voracious reader in high school and a relentless writer dabbling in many genres in college, I found my niche writing for young people. Today I’m a YA writer published through various presses. In addition to being a writer, I’m a middle school English teacher. My memberships include Mensa, ALAN, and SCBWI.

Author Photo by Corey Weiner/redsquarephoto.com

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