Lionel Shriver, the author of We Need To Talk About Kevin, has warned that “politically correct censorship” risks turning the world of fiction into a “timid, homogeneous, and dreary” place, and called on her fellow novelists to take a stand against it.
Writing in March’s issue of Prospect magazine, Shriver said that authors in today’s “call out” culture are “contend[ing] with a torrent of dos and don’ts that bind our imaginations and make the process of writing and publishing fearful”. She provoked outrage in 2016 when she said in a keynote speech at the Brisbane writers festival that she hoped “the concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a passing fad”. Almost two years later, she has now written that “preventing writers from conjuring lives different from their own would spell the end of fiction”, because “if we have the right to draw on only our own experience, all that’s left is memoir”.
According to Shriver, the “taboo” around cultural appropriation has become a “far bigger issue in literature” than it was when she first took on the issue. She pointed to the “sensitivity readers”, who are hired by publishers to look for what she called “perceived slights to any group with the protected status once reserved for distinguished architecture”, and to the “own voices” writers at Kirkus Reviews who review titles that have characters from their own particular background.
“These days, straight, white fiction writers whose characters’ ethnicity, race, disability, sexual identity, religion or class differs from their own can expect their work to be subjected to forensic examination – and not only on social media,” she said...