Author rewrite prize-winning memoir amid accusations of stereotyping

Scottish author Kate Clanchy is set to rewrite her Orwell prize-winning memoir after being accused of ‘racism and ableism’ for saying a black child had ‘chocolate-coloured skin’ while an autistic pupil was ‘jarring company’

  • Kate Clanchy, from Scotland, has faced criticism for her 2019 memoir 
  • Some have said the critically-acclaimed book portrays pupils in a racist manner
  • Prize-winning author described children as having ‘chocolate-coloured skin’
  • Meanwhile she also referred to two autistic children as ‘jarring company’ 

An author who wrote an award-winning memoir on her life as a state school teacher is rewriting the book amid claims it was racist.

Criticism has been levelled against Kate Clanchy, 55, from Scotland, for her 2019 memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me for portraying some pupils in a racist manner.

The critically-acclaimed book, which won the Orwell award, features passages with racial tropes such as ‘chocolate-coloured skin’ and ‘African Jonathon’ to describe a black child, the Times reported. The text also describes two autistic children as ‘jarring company’.  

Twitter users slammed Clanchy over the writing online, with one commenting: ‘This has horrified and triggered me. This book is full of racism and ableism. Privileged people always hail teachers like this, while disabled people & people of colour have their lives seriously damaged by them. 

Kate Clanchy, 55, from Scotland, is rewriting her 2019 memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me after some accused her of portraying some pupils in a racist manner

‘Look at all the privileged jumping to her defence too!’ 

The racial tropes were shared on Twitter and faced scrutiny from fellow authors, leading to Philip Pullman leaping to the book’s defence and describing it as ‘humane, warm, decent, generous and welcoming’. 

Kate claimed some of the offending references were taken out of context but later apologised and said she would rewrite the book.

Her publisher, Picador, was accused of not going far enough in its initial statement on the row. 

The critically-acclaimed book, which won the Orwell award, features passages with racial tropes such as ‘chocolate-coloured skin’ and ‘African Jonathon’ to describe a black child, the Times reported. The text also describes two autistic children as ‘jarring company’

It later issued two apologies and said it was discussing the best way to update future editions of the book.

The author has been a teacher in state schools for more than 30 years.

A poet herself, she published an anthology of pupil’s poetry in 2018 which resulted in her appointment of an MBE for services to literature. Many of the young poets were from refugee backgrounds.

Judges for the Orwell Prize, which was awarded to her memoir, said it was ‘moving, funny and full of life’ and included ‘sparkling insights into modern British society’. 

Twitter users slammed Clanchy over the writing online, with some saying the book had ‘triggered’ them 

Clanchy posted on Twitter last week and said she had been wrongfully accused of racism by users of book review website, Goodreads. 

Chimene Suleyman, co-author of The Good Immigrant USA anthology, tweeted she was concerned by ‘the publishing team that didn’t spot it, the awards that celebrated it, and the white authors defending it and invalidating people of colour who are upset by it.’

Other Twitter users were quick to criticise the author, with one posting: ‘Just caught up on the racist tropes in Kate Clanchy’s writing. Read extracts, the kind of crude, blunt historical racism that lives on in white discourse.’

A poet herself, she published an anthology of pupil’s poetry in 2018 which resulted in her appointment of an MBE for services to literature. Many of the young poets were from refugee backgrounds

Another commented: ‘My partner and I read the book. The grotesque and dehumanising way she described one of her students nearly triggered an anorexia relapse. It is full of ingrained racism, ableism, fatphobia and misogyny, and utter middle-class snobbery.’

Clanchy said: ‘I’ve been given the chance to do some re-writing on Some Kids.

‘I’m grateful: I know I got many things wrong, and welcome the chance to write better, more lovingly.’

Picador said: ‘We realised our response was too slow. We vigorously condemn the despicable online bullying of many of those who have spoken out.

‘This has no place in our community.’

It said it apologised ‘profoundly for the hurt we have caused, the emotional anguish experienced by many of you who took the time to engage with the text, and to hold us to account.’

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