Authors Turn to ‘Sensitivity Readers’ to Ensure Content Free of Cultural Insults

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In an extreme measure aimed at political correctness, NPR is reporting that some authors are using “sensitivity readers” to make sure their work does not offend cultures.

“Some writers are turning to sensitivity readers to be sure they haven’t inadvertently offended someone from a different culture,” the article states.

“Dhonielle Clayton is a sensitivity reader who specializes in books for kids,” the article states. “She vets five to six books a month, and prepares detailed critiques of each one.

“In at least one case, she recommended a major plot change: The book was a young adult fantasy with black and brown people and a secondary plotline about slavery, which Clayton advised the author to remove.”

“I said that if it doesn’t have any bearing on the world, why must the institution of slavery follow black and brown bodies even into fiction?” Clayton said. “And so she changed it.”

In the article, Clayton said she supports all authors using sensitivity readers but especially for children because they are “so impressionable.”

Kate Milford is another author interviewed for the NPR article. Milford said she considers sensitivity readers just another expert that she turns to when writing fantasy novels for pre-teens.

“Milford’s next book is about a Chinese boy who’s adopted by a white family,” the NPR article states. “She asked a number of people, including adoptees, to vet the book for her because she had questions that needed answers based in experience.”

The uptick in the use of sensitivity readers is credited to the website Writing in the Margins. The website states its mission is “helping underrepresented stories find their place.”

On its page about sensitivity writers, the website states: “A sensitivity reader reads through a manuscript for issues of representation and for instances of bias on the page. The goal of a sensitivity reader isn’t to edit a manuscript clarity and logic, although that may be an additional service offered. A sensitivity reader reviews a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language. A sensitivity reader is there to help make sure you do not make a mistake, but they are also NOT a guarantee against making a mistake.”

But some authors are wary of the practice, according to NPR.

“If this is a source for a writer who has no other way to get it, then great,” writer Hillary Jordan said in the NPR article. “But I feel that if it’s a risk management tool of some sort, I find that troubling.”

“Jordan acknowledges that things have changed since her book about race relations, ‘Mudbound,’ was published almost a decade ago,” the NPR article states. “People are more sensitive now, she says, but literature can’t come from a place of fear.”

“It comes from curiosity about how other people live; it comes from the desire to break down the barriers between us,” Jordan said. “And I just don’t know how you do that if you have someone looking over your shoulder and sort of coughing slightly to let you know when you’re off.”


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