Philip Pullman resigns from literary association after defending 'cancelled' author accused of racism

Sir Philip was president of the Society of Authors, but faced calls to resign after speaking up for cancelled writer Kate Clanchy

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Legendary author Sir Philip Pullman has resigned as president of the Society of Authors (SoA), after defending a writer accused of racist stereotyping.

The 75-year-old His Dark Materials author waded into a cancel culture debate by defending the work of award-winning writer Kate Clanchy. After speaking up for Ms Clanchy, some demanded Sir Philip resign as the SoA president.

The SoA acts as a trade union for writers.

Author Philip Pullman with his knighthood following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London.
Author Philip Pullman with his knighthood following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London.

Ms Clanchy's Orwell prize-winning memoir 'Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me', some have said, portrays a number of her former pupils in a "racist" way.

The book employed alleged racist tropes, including “chocolate-coloured skin” and “almond-shaped eyes”, in references to some of the pupils she'd taught.

The Scottish writer issued an apology and assured audiences that she would rewrite sections of the book. However, the reworked edition of the memoir, which was due out in autumn 2021, was abandoned as her publisher Pan McMillan parted ways with her.

Kate Clanchy following an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London.
Kate Clanchy following an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London.

In response to the row Sir Philip posted on Twitter that those condemning a book prior to reading it would "find a comfortable home in ISIS or the Taliban". He later deleted the tweet and apologised.

Last summer, the SoA sent an email to members, in which it distanced itself from Sir Philip’s comments.

The email read: “Philip wrote his comments as an individual, not in the name of the Society of Authors..."

It went on to say that the “president is an honorary position only: he does not play any part in the governance of the SoA”.

A letter published on the SoA website confirmed Sir Philip had resigned from his position.

Sir Philip is quoted in the resignation letter as saying: "I realised that I would not be free to express my personal opinions as long as I remained president."

As reported in The Telegraph, two literary dames - Dame Marina Warner and Dame Carmen Callil - have followed Sir Philip's resignation from the SoA, in protest at how the association dealt with his case.

Dame Marina told The Telegraph: "What is happening is a revival of the old pillory. We want to get things right on racism and prejudice. We need more diverse treatments of them and more diverse writers but what is happening now is creating an atmosphere of repression and anxiety.

"Kate Clanchy and Philip Pullman have been vilified. I am not a great warrior or hardliner but I have resigned in solidarity with Philip Pullman."

Dame Carmen Callil told the same newspaper: "My concern is that publishers and agents should not behave as they have been towards Kate Clanchy and Philip Pullman. They should be the servants of writers. You don't just ban people.

"I can see that Kate Clanchy used some unfortunate words but people have been behaving in the most awful way about this. The level of hatred is extraordinary. We are seeing this in the Society of Authors. Yet she has dedicated years of her life to teaching.

"What is happening now is censorship and it must be fought.”