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Philip Pullman resigns as Society of Authors president following book row

The author said he would be unable to ‘express my personal opinions’ as long as he held the role.

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Sir Philip Pullman has stepped down as president of the Society of Authors following controversy over his support of an author who was accused of racial and ableist stereotyping (Yui Mok/PA)

Sir Philip Pullman has stepped down as president of the Society of Authors following controversy over his support of an author who was accused of racial and ableist stereotyping (Yui Mok/PA)

Sir Philip Pullman has stepped down as president of the Society of Authors following controversy over his support of an author who was accused of racial and ableist stereotyping (Yui Mok/PA)

Sir Philip Pullman has stepped down as president of the Society of Authors following controversy over his support of an author who was accused of racial and ableist stereotyping.

In a letter sent to the group’s management committee this month, the author of His Dark Materials said he would “not be free to express my personal opinions” as long as he remained in the role.

Last year, the 75-year-old voiced support for Scottish writer Kate Clanchy after her memoir, Some Kids I Taught And What They Taught Me, attracted criticism over its descriptions of students.

Passages referenced their “almond-shaped eyes” and “chocolate-coloured skin” while two autistic students were described as “jarring company”.

In a tweet last August, Sir Philip defended her book and described it as “humane, warm, decent, generous, and welcoming”.

The society subsequently distanced itself from his comments.

Sir Philip later issued an apology, saying he “reacted in haste” and describing criticism of the book as “reasonable and balanced”.

He added that the “experiences and imaginations” of people of colour “deserve every kind of respect”.

Sir Philip has been a member of the Society of Authors for 35 years, joining the children’s writers and illustrators group committee in 1991.

He joined the council in 2004 and was elected president in 2013.

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Kate Clanchy following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Kate Clanchy following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Kate Clanchy following an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace (Jonathan Brady/PA)

In his resignation letter, Sir Philip said: “When it became clear that statements of mine were being regarded as if they represented the views of the Society as a whole (although they did nothing of the sort, and weren’t intended to), and that I was being pressed by people both in and out of the Society to retract them and apologise, I realised that I would not be free to express my personal opinions as long as I remained President.

“That being the case, with great regret and after long consideration I chose to stand down.”

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Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon said: “We were very sorry when Philip told us in February that he intended to resign, and regret that his personal views have come under so much scrutiny because of his Presidency of the SoA.

“Social media has changed the way we all communicate, organisations as well as individuals. We are in the process of reviewing the constitution to reflect the times in which we live, including the roles of the management committee, chair and president.”

Some Kids I Taught And What They Taught Me was acquired by independent publisher Swift Press after original publisher Picador parted ways with Clanchy.

Its reissued version removes the words and phrases which led to the controversy.

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