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Culture Wars And The Untold Story Of Lyndie B. Hawkins

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

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

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.
Thomas Lu is an assistant producer for Hidden Brain.He came to NPR in 2017 as an intern for the TED Radio Hour. He has worked with How I Built This, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Before coming to NPR, he was a production intern for StoryCorps.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.