• Monday, July 15, 2024

Response from the Society of Authors requests for Joanne Harris to resign her position as committee chair

on Aug 18, 2022
Following claims that the author of Chocolat took a "sideswipe" at JK Rowling

Following claims that the author of Chocolat took a "sideswipe" at JK Rowling, the authors' organisation has reaffirmed its stance on free speech. In response to requests for Joanne Harris to resign as the chair of its management committee, the largest trade union for authors, illustrators, and translators in the UK has defended its stance on free expression.

This comes after the author of Chocolat received criticism for starting a Twitter poll after the attack on Salman Rushdie and after J.K. Rowling received a death threat because she had shown support for Rushdie.

Harris questioned authors if they had ever received a death threat in the tweet, claiming that the attack had left her feeling "shaken." There were four possible responses: "Yes," "Hell, yes," "No, never," and "Show me, dammit." Later, Harris removed the poll and re-posted it with new results. There are currently two open letters in circulation, one supporting Harris and the other calling for her resignation.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Society of Authors (SoA) declared that it is "totally dedicated" to denouncing any attacks made against authors for using their freedom to express themselves freely. "Polarized opinions have become the norm, and there are so many conversations on complicated matters taking place in online venues where nuance and meaning are lost," the union continued.

More than 100 authors and business people signed an open letter written by Julie Bindel in which they stated their desire to "express our deep disquiet and anger at the Society of Authors' abject failure to speak out on violent threats against its members" and stated that they believed Joanne Harris's position as chair of the management committee was untenable.

In his letter, Bindel charged that Harris had "appeared to make light of the situation by presenting it in a cavalier manner" and had "taken a jab at JK Rowling, who had earlier that day received two additional public death threats after tweeting her shock at what had occurred to Sir Salman." The SoA and Harris had "been seized by gender ideologues who brook no debate and who are not prepared to help authors who fall foul of internet bullies," the letter continued about Harris.

Another open letter in support of Harris was signed by hundreds of authors and business people and was authored by author Melinda Salisbury. She had "been a steadfast, fair, dedicated, and passionate chair," according to the letter's signatories, who also expressed concern over the "apparently coordinated attacks against her by a small, vocal minority, who have become known to many of us who use Twitter as persons who regularly use their own platforms to intimidate and bully those who do not agree with their ideologies regarding trans and non-binary people."

In a subsequent tweet, Harris stated that she thought the criticism she was receiving had "everything to do with [her] support of the trans community" rather than the SoA. "I continue to support the trans community, as well as fighting for everyone's right to free speech," she continued. There is no disagreement.

The author of the novel has presided over the SoA's management committee since January 2020 and was recently voted to a second two-year term. According to the union's website, the management committee is a member-elected board that convenes six times year to "govern the direction of the SoA." The chairmen of professional organisations like the Translators Association and twelve chosen members are in charge of "defining the strategy and policies of the organisation."

Author Philip Pullman, the former president of the SoA, was one of many who defended Clanchy. In response to a tweet he mistakenly believed to be about Clanchy, he remarked that individuals who criticised the book without reading it would "find a comfy home in Isis or the Taliban." The SoA distanced itself from Pullman's remarks, and he later apologised. Pullman then resigned as SoA president earlier this year because he believed that, while in the position, he "would not be free to voice [his] own views."

But Harris doesn't intend to step down. She stated in another tweet regarding the open letters: "My tenure as Chair expires in 2024. I'm not going anywhere before then.

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