An award-winning author accused of ‘racism’ has hired private investigators to look into the social media profiles of chocolate novelist Joanne Harris OBE, after a war of words between the two.
Last year, author Kate Clanchy was accused by online commentators of stereotyping and demeaning children from ethnic minorities for her memoirs Some Kids I Tit and What They Tell Me about autism.
Clanchy said the social media investigators he hired had evidence that Harris, who heads the writers’ trade union, sent him a message apologizing to his critics as soon as he spoke to one.
In a letter to staff and Society of Authors members seen by The Times, Clanchy, an Oxford poet and teacher, accused Harris of being ‘ignorant, cruel and patronising’.
He writes that he became a scapegoat for problems throughout the publishing industry, as Harris suggested [she should]’
In a letter to staff and members of the Society of Authors seen by The Times, Oxford poet and teacher Kate Clanchy called Society of Authors chairman Joan Harris ‘ignorant, cruel and patronising’.
Clanchy’s letter to the society describes the online abuse she experienced after critics drew attention to certain phrases in her book.
Clanchy wrote that the ordeal brought him close to suicide and that it upset his students, whose poems are included in the book.
He also said in his letter that Harris had not read the book but still agreed with online commenters that it was ‘problematic’.
Meanwhile, detractors, including Professor Sunny Singh of London Metropolitan University, claimed that they were targeted by racists to out Clanchy.
Clanchy claims Harris contacted her ‘in an unsolicited direct message’ last year despite not being a member of the society.
In the message, Clanchy said, Harris encouraged him to apologize to Singh and two others who claimed he was attacked after criticizing him.
Harris wrote: ‘It’s not really about you: the anger and dissatisfaction with the industry’s attitude towards race was waiting to explode at one point, and you were the trigger this time.’
French-English author Joan Harris, who wrote Chocolate. Harris is chairwoman of the Society of Authors trade union, which has come under attack from author Kate Clanchy.
Clanchy was attacked online for including ‘racist tropes’ in her book, including describing students as having ‘chocolate-coloured skin’ and ‘nut-shaped eyes’.
The 57-year-old author said he was sorry and promised to rewrite parts of the book but was largely dropped by publisher Pan Macmillan.
Clanchy previously won the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2020, and the book included poems by students where he teaches at Oxford’s Spears Academy, but the revised version was shelved.
The Society for Authors, which has more than 12,000 members, was embroiled in a ‘culture war’ when its former president, His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman, defended Clanchy last August.
Pullman said in his online post that those who condemned it before reading it would ‘find a comfortable home among Isis or the Taliban’.
He later deleted the tweet and apologized after a backlash from activists who claimed the book was ‘racist’.
The society later invited Pullman to participate in race awareness training.
The 75-year-old author later resigned from his post in March, writing in his resignation letter: ‘I realized that as long as I am president I cannot express my personal views.’
In a letter sent by Pullman this month, he said that the society’s management committee and chairwoman, Harris, ‘immediately adopted a position of self-righteous neutrality… though more self-righteous than neutral.’
He added that a section of the union ‘wanted to use society as a vehicle for gestural politics’, The Times reported.
His Dark Materials author Sir Philip Pullman was blasted after being ‘rejected’ by his publishers for his award-winning memoir on behalf of Kate Clanchy. Later he resigned from the post of President of Writers’ Association
In a statement to those who received Clanchy’s letter, the society said the letter made ‘serious allegations about the chair which should be fully investigated’, adding: ‘Joan Harris strongly denies these allegations.’
The society has been contacted for comment.
Excerpt from ‘Some Children I Taught and What They Taught Me’ that sparks controversy over ‘racism’
Some of the kids I taught and what they taught me had previously been awarded the Orwell Prize – but the revised edition was rejected.
‘Kumar is tall and thin, like many Somali children with a thin nose, narrow skull and very dark, almost black skin. Adil is more muscular and square, with chocolate-colored skin, a wide-based nose and round head.” Mo is so round and soft and Pakistani with her long-rimmed eyes and soft shiny hair. On a fine morning, the two of them would stand still for a moment, hand in hand in greeting: a long-lost market etiquette.” He would call me for words, urgently, his black, almond-shaped eyes tearing, thin fingers bulging: Thingis!’