Why sensitivity readers matter

Sensitivity readers can not only identify misrepresentations of marginalised communities but also make books more authentic, Helen Young writes.

Last month, controversy was reignited in the UK around teacher Kate Clanchy’s memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, about her time teaching kids from diverse backgrounds to write poetry.

Although Clanchy’s book was initially lauded (even winning the Orwell Prize), criticism soon eclipsed praise. Readers, prominent writers of colour and autistic author Dara McNulty protested the language Clanchy used to describe her pupils (‘Somali height’, ‘Ashkenazi nose’, autistic children as ‘jarring company’). Her publisher Picador agreed the objections were ‘instructive and clear-sighted’; eventually, it withdrew the book from publication.

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