In my October post, The Kirkus “Star,” I expressed a problem with the narrowing of writers’ ability to write or publish work that presents anyone outside their own experience. Though not addressing exactly the same matter that was at issue in that post, the Publisher’s Weekly article, “Let’s Talk About Sensitivity Readers” by Dhonielle Clayton presents another view of a related matter. As an exponent of “knowing what you write,” I have not decided whether or not I agree with the author’s view of the solution, but I think the article (linked above) is worth reading.
Where Ms. Clayton argues that, while working, a writer would do well to run his or her work past readers who are of the culture they’re writing about to be sure it feels like an accurate, authentic portrayal, I agree. At the same time, people of the same cultural group may have very different ideas of what authentically portrays their world, not to mention that they may be so focused on the question of “authenticity” as to miss what a work is really doing. And when editors, of which there are, I suspect, more than a few, simply pass a work off to a “reader” of the ethnic background being written about, they are abdicating the responsibility to form their own independent judgment of the work.
In any case, the Clayton article can be a catalyst for a more complex consideration of these matters.