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Kevin Lambert – Nicolas Mathieu: The president of Goncourt, Didier Decoin, reacts to the controversy

“A stupid controversy.

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Kevin Lambert – Nicolas Mathieu: The president of Goncourt, Didier Decoin, reacts to the controversy

“A stupid controversy.” Yesterday, and like every year, the Académie Goncourt was present, through its president Didier Decoin, at the Book Festival on the Place de Nancy. “I like this Festival, because its first characteristic is that it is a celebration, the authors are happy to come to Nancy,” said the writer. It's the end of summer, the end of vacation and the start of a real adventure. Some books will become famous, will be profitable for their publishers and there will be controversies. He thus reacted to the one which has been animating the world of publishing for several days. “When you are an author, you have the right to call on anyone you want to proofread a text.”

Let us recall the facts: on September 4, the publishing house, Le Nouvel Attila published an Instagram post indicating that its author Kevin Lambert, present in the first Goncourt list, had called on a “sensitivity reader”, known as “ editorial deminer", whose job is to defuse any word or phrase that could pose problems for readers from minorities, in order to ensure that they do not fall "into certain traps of the representation of black people by white authors .hes. (…) Sensitive reading, contrary to what the reactionaries say, is not censorship. It amplifies the freedom of writing and the richness of the text.”

Nicolas Mathieu, Goncourt 2018, then reacted in a post on the same social network. He wrote in particular: “Making professionals in sensitivities, experts in stereotypes, specialists in what is accepted and dared at a given moment the compass of our work, that leaves us circumspect, to say the least. Let us brag about it, this is amusing at best, but pitiful in truth. Let us discredit with one word those who think that literature has nothing to do with these customs of a new genre, and imply that they play into the hands of current oppressions, it is quite simply a bitch. Writers, we must work, and take our risks, without supervision or police. That’s the least we can do.”

Using a "sensitivity reader" across the Atlantic has become a common practice, but no less decried in France (see our articles on the rewriting of the works of Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming). Didier Decoin sees no malice in this. “I understand that Kevin Lambert wanted not to give a text likely to offend people. When you write a book, you don’t want to cause pain.”

Should all authors now surround themselves with “sensitivity readers”? “No,” replies Didier Decoin. Those who want it do it, those who don't want it don't do it. We have all the rights.” And to conclude once and for all: “I see nothing wrong with Kevin Lambert’s approach other than an approach of doing no harm. There have been controversies in the past, and there will be. But this is not one of them.”

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