Friday, April 12

‘I would not be free to express my opinion’: Philip Pullman steps down as Society of Authors president | Books

Philip Pullman has stepped down as president of the Society of Authors (SoA) after comments he made about Kate Clanchy’s controversial memoir, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. In a letter sent to the SoA’s management committee this month, the children’s author said he “would not be free to express [his] personal opinion” as long as he remained in the role.

Pullman, who will remain a member of the trade union’s council, came under fire last year when he spoke out in support of Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, which was criticized for racial and ableist stereotyping. In response to a tweet that he incorrectly assumed was about Clanchy, Pullman, in a now-deleted tweet, said that those who criticized the book without reading it would “find a comfortable home in Isis or the Taliban”.

The SoA released a statement at the time distancing itself from Pullman’s comments, and Pullman later tweeted an apology for the harm he caused, saying criticism of Clanchy was “reasonable and balanced” and that people of color “deserve every kind of respect”.

However, as the controversy around Clanchy continues – she and her publisher “parted ways” in January – Pullman clearly felt that he could no longer remain in his role.

He said it had been “a privilege” to serve as president, and added: “Recent events have made it apparent that when a difference of opinion arises, there is no easy way to resolve it within the constitution or the established practices of the society .

“When it became clear that statements of mine were being regarded as if they represented the views of the society as a whole (although they did nothing of the sort, and weren’t intended to), and that I was being pressed by people both in and out of the society to retract them and apologise, I realized that I would not be free to express my personal opinions as long as I remained president. That being the case, with great regret and after long consideration I chose to stand down.”

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Pullman told the SoA and its chief executive, Nicola Solomon, last month of his intention to resign. She said the society was “very sorry” when it received news of Pullman’s decision.

Pullman has been a member of the SoA for 35 years, joining the children’s writers and illustrators group committee in 1991. His first five-year term as president began in 2013 and he was elected to a second term that was due to end in 2023.

Solomon said: “During his nine years as president, the working landscape for authors of all kinds has continued to change almost beyond recognition”, highlighting the way social media has transformed communication. She said the organization was planning to review its constitution to “reflect the times in which we live”, which may include changes to the role of president.

She went on to praise the way Pullman had spoken out on “many issues that impact authors, including payment, libraries, independent bookshops, book piracy and book festivals – ensuring a far wider understanding of the issues facing authors than we could have achieved without him ”.

The author Joanne Harris, who is chair of the management committee at the SoA, said in a statement: “We are very sorry to see Philip resign. We thank Philip for his many years of service to the SoA, for his inspirational work with young readers. ”

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