Published On: Tue, Dec 26th, 2017

‘Sensitivity readers’ censoring children’s books deemed racist and offensive

The NY Times touted a new post analyzing the editorial response to free copies of Keira Drake’s book “The Continent,” changed the industry after it was blasted as “racist trash,” “retrograde” and “offensive.”

“In the year since, ‘The Continent’ has changed drastically,” The NY Times notes. “Harlequin hired two sensitivity readers, who vetted the narrative for harmful stereotypes and suggested changes. Ms. Drake spent six months rewriting the book, discarding descriptions like her characterization of one tribe as having reddish-brown skin and painted faces. The new version is due out in March.”

They explain how the publishers are “are turning to sensitivity readers, who provide feedback on issues like race, religion, gender, sexuality, chronic illness and physical disabilities.”

Public domain image/Piotr VaGla Waglowski, http://www.vagla.pl

“It’s a craft issue; it’s not about censorship. We have a lot of people writing cross-culturally, and a lot of people have done it poorly and done damage.” Posted on the Times as their QUOTE OF THE DAY for Christmas Eve – DHONIELLE CLAYTON, a former librarian and writer who has evaluated more than 30 children’s books as a sensitivity reader this year.

“Can we no longer read ‘Othello’ because Shakespeare wasn’t black?” the novelist Francine Prose wrote recently in an essay about sensitivity readers and censorship in The New York Review of Books.

Some examples:

Scholastic pulled its picture book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” from stores after criticism that it soft-pedaled slavery by leaving out the grimmer details of the life of an enslaved baker, who eventually escaped.

Candlewick Press postponed the young adult novel “When We Was Fierce,” by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, after some readers complained the book reinforced negative stereotypes of inner-city youth.

“The Black Witch,” Laurie Forest’s young adult fantasy novel about a teenage girl who is raised in a xenophobic society that prizes magical ability, drew virulent criticism from readers who said it was racist, sexist and homophobic.

Back to Prose, who explains that “What’s distressing is the frequency—and the unexamined authority—with which the words “experience” and “lived experience” define who is qualified to write or even to weigh in on a book. If it’s not your “lived experience,” you’re not writing in “your own voice.” It doesn’t suggest much faith in the power of the imagination—our ability to envision what it might be like to belong to another group, another gender, to live in another historical era. To take the argument to its illogical extreme, how can one write a historical novel if one has no “lived experience” of that period? Meanwhile, the fact that the Kirkus reviewer of American Heart was chosen partly because she came from the same community as the novel’s “problematic” character seems not to have mattered when Kirkus caved to the pressure from online community critics.”

“The term ‘authenticity reader’ better encapsulates the work they do, because they are providing critical feedback about matters of accuracy,” said Namrata Tripathi, editorial director at Dial Books in a post two weeks ago.

“You shouldn’t be writing so far outside your own culture that you don’t know anyone who’s a part of your character’s culture,” Patrice Caldwell, associate editor at Disney-Hyperion and founder of People of Color in Publishing said.

Tripathi echoed her comment, saying, “It’s not about who’s allowed. It’s about whether you do it well.”




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- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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