What is radical copyediting?
The concept of radical copyediting is based on the fact that language is not neutral. Through language we communicate values, norms, and ideals. Words matter: they can be used to harm or to heal; to perpetuate prejudice or imagine a different world; to oppress or to liberate.
Copyeditors help authors and publishers make sure that the material they put into the world is clear, consistent, and understandable, by way of following grammar rules, dictionaries, style manuals, and other tools. A radical copyeditor does all that and also helps authors and publishers align their words with their values of inclusion, equity, and nonviolence, bringing forward a particular awareness and sensitivity to how norms around race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, age, and other elements show up in our language.
Radical copyediting helps language live up to its most radical potential—serving the ends of access, inclusion, and liberation, rather than maintaining oppression and the status quo.
Hi! My name is Alex Kapitan and I am a radical copyeditor.
I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the same year as the Macintosh personal computer, putting me at the tail end of the Oregon Trail Generation—a cultural cohort that bridges Generation X and Millennials—meaning I have misplaced nostalgia for things like typewriters and card catalogs, which I learned to use but never learned to loathe.
As a genderqueer person, I have had to quite literally write myself into existence—forcing language to make room for me within a culture that does not want to admit that there are people who are neither male nor female. As a queer person, I’ve experienced the versatility and mutability of language first-hand, marveling as a single word changes shape and meaning depending on the person who says it, the person who hears it, and the context in which it is spoken.
My love of copyediting began in the early 2000s during an internship with South End Press, a majority women of color–run book publishing collective that is sadly now defunct, where I came to believe that publishing could be a form of activism. Since then I have endeavored to use my nerdy word powers to create positive change in the world.
I believe that language matters, and that those of us who are working to manifest a better, more just world have a responsibility to use language in ways that describe the world we are working to create, rather than unconsciously perpetuating bias and prejudice.
Some words are intentionally used in ways that add more violence to the world and/or maintain oppression. Other words are used without any intention or active awareness, and maintain the status quo by unconsciously promoting mainstream values and norms. Still others are used in intentional ways that foster awareness, equity, and liberation. This is the way that I strive to help others utilize language.