Unpacking Privilege in Creative Writing
The following list is meant to reveal the complexities of how power and privilege operate in the literary landscape. The list is meant to help students and faculty reflect on the biases that may be embedded in their approach to literary production. This tool, which is anthologized in the book Critical Creative Writing, may be used in the creative writing classroom to begin a conversation that enables writers to be more culturally competent and self-reflexive about their positionality in the creative writing classroom.
- I have never noticed when an anthology, literary journal, or magazine consists primarily of white or male writers.
- I assume that the works that don’t get published or canonized are always examples of bad or lesser writing.
- I grew up admiring heroes from movies and books that shared my race or gender. It was easy to find these protagonists in the films, shows, and books available to me.
- I can be sure that the curricular materials I receive in a creative writing class will present characters and narrators that share my racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, class, national, linguistic, or religious identity or that have bodies that look like mine.
- To my mind, only less important or less skilled forms of literature are political or politicized.
- I have never experienced censorship.
- I have never received punishment for something I wrote.
- I assume that my experiences and my writing can reach a universal or mainstream audience.
- I believe that the people who really have something to say are the people that get large audiences.
- I have never considered how my first or last name might be perceived by publishers, literary agents, or application review committees.
- I believe writers are born and not made.
- When I name the great authors of the literary tradition, most of the names that come to mind are white or male writers.
- I rarely feel the need to examine the ways I present race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, or religion in my writing.
- I rarely feel the need to examine the ways I present the body or ability in my writing.
- I feel comfortable writing about characters of political/cultural/linguistic/social/ethnic identities that I do not share, and I do not go out of my way to check my representation of these characters against perspectives other than my own.
- I often don’t name the race of my characters because I assume readers will know the characters are white, or I feel that race doesn’t matter.
- I do not consider how audiences of differing identities, backgrounds, and experiences will experience the texts I produce.
- I feel comfortable writing in genres (e.g., haiku, slam poetry, etc.) that have cultural legacies of which I am unaware.
- I feel comfortable portraying the speech patterns of characters from cultural backgrounds that I don't know well. I feel comfortable using a vernacular, code, or language that I do not speak or have never sought to learn.
- I do not worry about cultural appropriation in my storytelling or poetic practices. I feel I can resource whatever I want to use in my work, and I do not need to account for my positionality when I do.
- I’ve never experienced microaggressions in a creative writing workshop.
- I can note bias in the creative writing workshop without being accused of displaying extreme emotion, being irrational, being militant, or being too self-interested.
- I do not sympathize with requests to preface literary texts with trigger warnings or content warnings about forms of prejudice, abuse, and dismissal of lived oppressions (e.g., anti-trans views, racism, ableism).
- When readers are offended by something they read, I believe the offense is the reader’s individual problem—and not the writer’s.
- Readers do not expect me to speak for all people of my racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, class, national, linguistic, or religious group in my writing.
- I do not worry that my peers or teachers will be disapproving of my taste in literature.
- I do not fear being seen as a cultural outsider to creative writing.
This exercise is borrowed and modified from Peggy McIntosh’s well-known heuristic “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" and from a related inventory that exposes privilege in environmentalism.