BPC Bulletin: Sensitivity or Censorship in Modern Fiction

News Reports and Commentary Selected by Franklin Carter of the Book and Periodical Council’s Freedom of Expression Committee

 

A sensitivity reader is someone who reads a manuscript with the express purpose of identifying and questioning plot elements, characters, language, and tropes that come across as inauthentic, lazy, stereotypical, or downright offensive. Typically, sensitivity readers are brought in by authors who are trying to write about a culture to which they don’t personally belong ...

—Fred Johnson

Sensitivity readers are editorial consultants. They are supposed to help authors make their manuscripts better (that is, more authentic and less offensive) before publication. But is the instinct to hire sensitivity readers rooted in the fear of publishing books that inadvertently provoke angry criticism and result in lost book sales? Can applying the advice of sensitivity readers — especially in an era of identity politics and online outrage — amount to prepublication censorship?

 

REPORTAGE

In Slate, Aja Hoggatt writes about the case of Amélie Wen Zhao and her novel Blood Heir:

https://slate.com/culture/2019/01/blood-heir-ya-book-twitter-controversy.html

In The New York Times, Alexandra Alter writes about Keira Drake and her novel The Continent:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/24/books/in-an-era-of-online-outrage-do-sensitivity-readers-result-in-better-books-or-censorship.html

At Literary Hub, Christine Ro reports:

https://lithub.com/on-the-use-of-sensitivity-readers-in-publishing/

 

COMMENTARY

At Quillette, Ryan Holiday writes:

https://quillette.com/2019/10/01/the-problem-with-sensitivity-readers/

At Standout Books, Fred Johnson writes:

https://www.standoutbooks.com/sensitivity-readers/

In Tablet, Marjorie Ingall writes:

https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/281546/confessions-of-a-sensitivity-reader

At All Lit Up, Kai Cheng Thom writes:

https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2019/They-Call-Me-Literary-Fascism-Reflections-of-a-Sensitivity-Reader

At Writer’s Digest, Anna Hecker comments:
https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/problem-sensitivity-readers-isnt-think

In Publishers Weekly, Dhonielle Clayton writes:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/75806-let-s-talk-about-sensitivity-readers.html

In The New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith writes:
https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/10/24/zadie-smith-in-defense-of-fiction/

 

Thanks go to Katrina Afonso who provided the idea for this bulletin and five of the articles.

 

The Book and Periodical Council was formed in 1975 as the Book and Periodical Development Council to provide a venue for members to discuss industry issues, address mutual concerns and undertake projects for the benefit of Canadian writing and publishing.

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