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On August 6, author Kate Clanchy wrote a now-deleted tweet that caused a storm. She said a reviewer at Goodreads came up with a racist quote and attributed it to her book.
Thousands responded asking them to contact Goodreads directly and tag the review themselves. Several authors jumped in to defend it immediately, including the gigantic author Philip Pullman, who described the book as “humane, warm, decent, generous, and welcoming”.
The book is Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, an analysis of the UK school system. In it, Clanchy remembers her time as a teacher, campaigns against the church and high schools and suggests that creative writing be taught in all schools. The book introduces several of the children she has taught, and Clinchy mentions her own privilege in it and calls herself a “genteel do-gooder”. The book won the Orwell Prize for Political Writing in 2020 and has received wide acclaim.
Clanchy is a Scottish poet, writer and teacher who was awarded an MBE for Services to Literature in 2018. She is widely recognized and known for her work with children, including her publication in the anthology England: Poems from a School.
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The controversial Goodreads review for Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me claimed that Clanchy’s use of terms like “chocolate skin” and “almond-shaped eyes” was unacceptable.
Clanchy’s supporters surrounded her and accepted her stance that this review was a lie. Goodreads has a reputation for misinformation and is a platform of abuse. Surely the author is a better source of information about the contents of his book than Goodreads?
But the review wasn’t a lie. Clanchy used these terms, along with a number of other terribly offensive terms. She describes a Somali student as having a “narrow skull” and expresses her disbelief that a student with a “fine Ashkenazi nose” is not a Jew. I winced while reading; it felt like reading eugenic reasoning from the 1930s.
Autistic author Dara McAnulty added his two cents and highlighted sections of the book that describe autistic children as “unconsciously strange” and “harrowing society.” “We can understand how you really feel about us,” wrote McAnulty before being verbally abused by Clanchy’s supporters. He left Twitter under the strain, with his mother taking over his feed to give McAnulty some rest. McAnulty is only 17.
Colored authors tried to get in touch with Clanchy and Pullman, including Monisha Rajesh and Sunny Singh – and received racial abuse from other internet users. Singh later told the BBC that she and her co-authors of Color were woefully ignored by the likes of Clanchy and Pullman when they tried to get involved. The white writers, she said, only talked to one another.
Clinchy noted at one point that she was “afraid” to engage in criticism, yet another racist trope, as if the color writers were somehow hurting her more than she already had.
The truth was finally revealed as more and more readers dug up quotes. Clinchy stopped denying the problem and instead requested that her comments be read in context – but that only made it worse. The fallout was significant in one way but nauseating in another.
The Orwell Prize issued a statement in recognition of its award for the book, while Poetry Wales apologized for the platform.
The organization admitted that “it was not the intention of Poetry Wales to promote racist and ableist views”, went on to denounce the public statements made by Clanchy and its publisher and their dismay at “the denials of responsibility contained therein.” To express. Poetry Wales apologized to its readers, but still pointed a finger at others. First, blame these other people. As long as this is the method of solving acute publishing problems, the industry will never do better.
Philip Pullman apologized for the damage his tweets had done, adding that “color pens … your experiences and ideas deserve every kind of respect”. I don’t think I was the only one who raised an eyebrow at that.
Then, since Pullman is the head of the Society of Authors, they sent an awkward email to their authors asking them to be “aware of the privileges and implications of what they create, do and say”. They distanced themselves from Pullman: “Philip wrote his comments as an individual, not on behalf of the Society of Authors”.
On August 9, just three days after the excitement began, The Bookseller reported that writer Kate Clánchy was about to rewrite her memoir. That’s right: you get one more try. Her own tweets contain an assessment that she is not a “good person”. That’s what I’m trying to say in my book. ”This is one hell of a turn from their original stance that the review was a lie.
So what can be learned from all of this?
You should really read a book first before you automatically assume that it is a valuable field of information. Second, there is no way you should publicly endorse anything that you haven’t read. Third, if a person who is not like you claims racism or ableism and presents actual receipts, maybe read the receipts before abusing them.
Aside from the conciseness, the fact that no one – agent, publisher, editor, proofreader – has seen these problems. Many months passed before these things came to light (although, of course, People of Color immediately noticed the problem). How come?
The answer is pretty simple, and that’s also why Kate Clanchy is getting a rerun.
Clanchy is a famous white writer of prominent honor – and the publishing industry is a doorman full of people like her. As Monisha Rejesh commented in The Guardian, “Readers are not a homogeneous white middle class with healthy people, and neither are writers. We come from all walks of life, and for books to represent this, the publisher must do so first. “
Should the book be rewritten? Not from my point of view. The damage is done and the damage is caused; You can’t put the bunny back in the box. Worse still, allowing Clanchy to rewrite it gives legitimacy to the idea that it was in some way exposed to a “culture of undoing”. And finally, rewriting means sweeping the problem under the rug along with the old issues.
If you’d like to read the work of some of the writers mentioned in this article who don’t use racist and ableist tropes, check out Dara McAnulty’s awesome Journal of a Young Naturalist and the New Middle Class Wild Child (the illustrations in this one are frankly some of the best I’ve ever seen). Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 Trains is an excellent glimpse into her family history and the railroad’s lifeline – and Chimene Suleyman’s work on The Good Immigrant USA makes it a must-see.
What is clear is that publishing still has a long way to go – and after that, I’m not sure if it is ready to take this journey, despite all its platitudes about diversity according to #PublishingPaidMe.