Picador has said it is “profoundly” sorry for the way it responded to online criticism about the language used in Kate Clanchy's book Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, which the author will now partially rewrite.
Clanchy's Orwell Prize-winning book has been criticised online over recent days, with accusations that it used “racialised stereotypes” to describe children and problematic language when describing autistic pupils and other youngsters.
Some of its critics, who pointed out the book used terms like “chocolate-coloured skin” and “African Jonathon” to describe Black children, have suffered racist abuse since highlighting their concerns online.
In an initial statement on the row, Picador said it would continue to “listen and learn”, saying it was discussing the best way to update future editions of the book. That response was itself criticised online for not going far enough or engaging with people's concerns.
On 9th August, Picador issued an updated statement in which it apologised for the way it responded and condemned those who abused the book's critics.
The publisher said: "We have been listening to the responses to what we said about Kate Clanchy’s Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me and we want to apologise 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.
“We realise 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.
“We understand that readers wish to know specifically what will be done about the book, we’re actively working on this now and we will communicate this as soon as possible."
Clanchy tweeted on 9th August that she would be re-writing parts of her book and also apologised for the way she reacted to criticism, which originally came via negative reviews on Goodreads. Clanchy had previously highlighted the reviews on Twitter and claimed some of the disputed passages were not in her book or had been taken out of context.
She 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. To people saying I shouldn't centre myself in the kids lives: I agree. I've been worrying about this for years.
"I hope you will be able to see them better, now I am knocked off my pedestal. And I apologise too for over reacting to the Goodreads reviews. It was wrong. I don't really have an excuse, except that I am bereaved and it takes people in different ways.
"I am not a good person. I do try to say that in my book. Not a pure person, not a patient person, no one's saviour. You are right to blame me, and I blame myself."
On 10th August, the Orwell Foundation also issued a statement on the controversy over its 2020 prize winner, but said it would not comment on the judging decision itself. It said: "The Orwell Foundation acknowledges the concerns and hurt expressed about Kate Clanchy’s memoir, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2020. The foundation understands the importance of language and encourages open and careful debate about all the work which comes through our prizes. Everyone should be able to engage in these discussions, on any platform, without fear of abuse.
"The Orwell Prizes are awarded by a panel of independent judges, appointed each year by the foundation, who make their own decisions as to the awards in each category. The foundation does not comment on individual judging panel decisions."
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