The Bookseller – News – Harris faces member vote on role of Society of Authors in call for free speech review

Joanne Harris faces a vote from Society of Authors members on whether she should step down as president amid demands for a review of how the organization protects free speech.

A group of 10 members, including Julie Bindel and Amanda Craig, have proposed a resolution for the company’s upcoming annual general meeting (AGM), saying Harris’ comments and behavior are ‘not consistent with the company’s goals. to protect freedom of expression and their policy of dignity and respect” and she should leave her post.

Harris came under fire earlier this year for a “glib” poll she posted on Twitter after Salman Rushdie was stabbed. She later deleted it and admitted to being in the wrong tone, but this led to criticism of her stance and opinions, including from JK Rowling.

Bindel launched an open letter, eventually signed by around 340 people, calling on him to leave. A rival letter in Harris’s defense attracted around 640 signatures and the Chocolate The author called the criticism a “stunt” by “gender-critical people” angry at her support for trans rights.

An additional general meeting resolution by Bindel and others calls on the company to review “how to pursue its stated goal ‘to protect freedom of expression’ and to put in place a robust framework to do so, including a group of the members and of the management committee which examines how to better protect the fundamental right of all authors to express themselves freely within the framework of the law and to defend the impartiality expected of society, including of all those who govern and work for it.” This should include a subcommittee of the management committee, the resolution says.

It follows a report compiled by Kate Clanchy whose book Some Children I Taught and What They Taught Me (Swift Press) was accused last year of using racist stereotypes about children. Clanchy, who has since parted ways with the book’s original publisher Picador, sent a 20-page report to the company in August, saying Harris entered into her dispute “when it shouldn’t have happened. and sided with critics of her book. “A de facto morality clause from my publisher was something the company could have campaigned against: instead, they found themselves a major voice to call it out,” she wrote. “It leaves society with ongoing difficulties as it attempts to defend free speech.”

GA resolutions will be voted on by full members via an electronic poll at the November 17 meeting.

In addition, the company has proposed to hold a consultation on the roles of its board, president and management committee, with recommendations made to the annual general meeting next year. It is proposed that the SoA Board not elect a new chair until then.

Former chairman Philip Pullman announced he was stepping down from his role earlier this year following the Clanchy controversy, saying he no longer felt free to voice his own opinions. It has since called for an external review of the SoA.

The company noted in its shareholders’ meeting materials that Pullman’s initial resignation statement showed that being chairman “can put the incumbent in an awkward position.” It states: “We must be careful not to allow the persistence of a systemic difficulty for the future presidents, members of the board, members of the management committee or the group committee who serve us voluntarily and so well and do so much for the prestige of the SoA.

Possible solutions being considered include abolishing the office of president altogether, reducing the term of office of the president, or allowing members to remove the president or the board by majority vote.

Elections for four seats on the SoA’s management committee are also underway, with 14 candidates running, including Harriet Evans, Vaseem Khan and Sunny Singh. Singh was nominated by Harris and served as one of Clanchy’s book reviewers, suffering racist abuse afterwards.

Harris said The bookstore it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the resolutions. The Society of Authors did not respond to a request for comment.

The SoA has previously backed its chairman and reiterated its commitment to free speech in the face of criticism from Bindel and others. In a lengthy statement in August, he called Harris a “committed and passionate president” and denied that gender-critical members were treated differently than others.

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