Orange Prize-winning author Lionel Shriver has slammed “sensitivity readers” and cultural appropriation again, saying “we should all be free to borrow from each other’s cultures.”
In an interview with NPR, Shriver spoke about cultural appropriation and the emergence of “sensitivity readers” employed by book publishers to check for any signs of perceived racism or cultural insensitivity.
“I think we should all be free to borrow from each other’s cultures,” she said. “And I think we should be advocating that we use evermore diverse populations of characters in fiction. And the super sensitivity that is developing is discouraging writers from doing that.”
The author made waves last year when she mocked the concept of cultural appropriation at the Brisbane writers festival, sparking outrage from people concerned with social justice.
“This whole business of editors sending out manuscripts to be read by so-called sensitivity readers to make sure that they don’t offend anyone, that they don’t promote stereotypes, that does inhibit creativity,” she told NPR.
“And it does discourage writers from using characters from specially protected groups. If you include a black or a Chinese character in your cast, then you’re going to be specially scrutinized. And it naturally leads to a kind of fictional apartheid.”
Shriver noted that while it’s okay for the authors themselves to scrutinize their work for being lazy when it comes stereotypical portrayals of protected groups, it’s troubling when “that is institutionalized on the part of the publisher.”
“That’s where I draw the line,” she added. “I wouldn’t be critical of authors who sought out that counsel. But this is not really up to the author. This is being done routinely with books written for children and young adults.
“And I am anxious about it spreading to fiction written by grown-ups and for grown-ups. And it does blur into political censorship.”
“I’m not promoting gratuitous offense. I don’t believe in, you know, using racial slurs, for example, just for fun, to get away with it,” she also said.
“But I do want to protect the ability of my characters to use racial slurs, and for my characters to be bigoted. And I’m worried about losing that freedom because if the characters can’t act out, then fiction is dead.”