Following a verbal exchange between the two, an award-winning author who was accused of “racist” hired private detectives to dig into the social media accounts of Joanne Harris OBE, the author of Chocolat and the leader of the authors’ trade union.
In her biography Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, Clanchy was accused by internet bloggers last year of stereotyping and being disparaging toward children from ethnic minorities and with autism.
Oxford poet and teacher Kate Clanchy accused Harris of disparaging her in a letter to the Society of Authors’ staff and members that was obtained by The Times.
She also claimed that, as “Harris had advised [she should],” she had been made the target of problems in the publishing sector.
Ms. Clanchy came under fire online for allegedly using racial cliches in her book, such as saying that students had “almond-shaped eyes” and “skin the color of chocolate.”
The 57-year-old author expressed regret and promised to revise some of the book, but Pan Macmillan still effectively cancelled the project.
The book, written by pupils that Clanchy taught at Oxford Spires Academy and for which she had received the Orwell Prize for political literature in 2020, was shelved.
The Society for Authors, which has over 12,000 members, got involved in “the cultural war” when Philip Pullman, the author of His Dark Materials, supported Clanchy in August of last year.
Those who rejected it before reading it, according to Pullman’s online article, would “find a comfy home in Isis or the Taliban.”
After outrage from activists who say the book was “racist,” he subsequently removed the tweet and apologized.
Later, the Society invited Pullman to a training session on racial sensitivity.
In his resignation letter, the 75-year-old novelist stated: “I understood that I would not be free to voice my own beliefs as long as I remained president.”
Pullman allegedly said in a letter issued this month that Harris, the head of the Society’s management committee, had “quickly taken a stance of self-righteous neutrality… Though more self-righteous than neutral.”
According to The Times, he claimed that some union members sought to “exploit the society as a vehicle for gesture politics.”
In her letter to the Society, Clanchy discusses the online harassment she received as a result of reviews that called attention to certain passages in her book.
According to Clanchy, the experience almost drove her to commit suicide and angered her pupils, whose poetry was featured in the book.
She said in her letter that despite Harris not having read the book, they both agreed that it was “difficult.”
While this was going on, Clanchy’s critics, notably Sunny Singh, a professor at London Metropolitan University, said that they had been singled out by racists for calling him out.
Despite the fact that she wasn’t a member of the group the previous year, Clanchy alleges Harris contacted her “in an uninvited direct message.”
Clanchy stated that Harris urged her to apologize to Singh and the other two people who claimed to have been assaulted after criticizing her in the message.
This isn’t really about you, Harris said. “You simply happened to be the trigger this time,” he said of the anger and discontent with the industry’s attitude toward race.
The social media detectives Clanchy has now recruited, according to Clanchy, have proof that Harris sent the message right away after speaking with one of Clanchy’s detractors.
The Society issued a response to people who had received Clanchy’s letter, stating that the letter “contained serious accusations against the chair which should be properly examined,” and that “Joanne Harris emphatically rejects” these claims.