On Writing and Privilege


It started, as many things do, with a conversation on Twitter. Katie Sluiter had written a review of Stephen King's book, On Writing, and she and Kerstin Auer were discussing it and I chimed in with my own observations. In summary, they both loved the book and I did not. When they asked me why, the first thing out of my tweeting fingers was that Stephen King has a tremendous amount of privilege and the book was written from that perspective. Of course, the second thing was that I hated the way the cover felt. The more we discussed his privilege the more I realized that in being so quick to point out his, I was completely ignoring my own.

I grew up in a working class family. My father owned a bar and my mother was a typesetter. After my parents divorced, my mother had a difficult time making ends meet and, years later, I found out that things were hard enough at one point that she hocked her jewelry just to buy me Christmas presents. My mother couldn't afford to miss work and often worked overtime so that she could pay the bills. Sometimes, I think growing up working class impacted my world view more than anything else and I am an expert at recognizing class privilege though sometimes I forget to notice my own.

In calling out Stephen King, I had to stop and recognize that I quit my job just over a year ago to write. At this very moment, I am sitting on the couch with my cat and my laptop writing. It doesn't matter that I don't make millions of dollars from my writing - I still have the privilege of sitting here doing it. I still default to thinking of myself as that little girl who lived in a trailer park with a family who struggled, with a mother who punched a time clock, with a dad with a rusty old truck. I still remember watching my mother do bills and knowing that some would get paid and some wouldtn't.

But I am not that little girl.

I am a grown woman with a Master's degree who had a career as a professional and can return to that if the need arises. I have a partner who financially supports me and, though I don't talk about it often, my kids go to private school. Privilege? I have more than I could have imagined when I was 11 years old and watching my mother making breakfast from the previous night's leftover mashed potatoes.

So, the discussion of On Writing reminded me that, before I throw out "privilege" as a criticism of someone else, I need to check my own.