‘There’s more than one way to burn a book’, wrote Ray Bradbury, in a coda to the 1979 edition of his anti-censorship classic, Fahrenheit 451. The case of Kate Clanchy, the Orwell Prize-winning author, currently rewriting her book after a particularly strange fit of identitarian pique, shows us just how true that is.
The story of Clanchy’s sudden fall from grace in the publishing world is utterly mad, even by today’s standards. She is an author, poet and teacher. In 2019, she published Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, a memoir reflecting on her time teaching in an Oxford comprehensive, to critical acclaim.
But in the two years since, the bounds for acceptable thought and expression have apparently shrunk to such an extent that it is now being painted as a racist screed. Tweeters and Goodreads reviewers recently began criticising the book online, over its descriptions of ethnic-minority and disabled pupils in particular, and it quickly turned into a huge storm.
Picador, the book’s publisher, released a statement on 6 August, pledging to ‘update the book for future editions’. It then had to issue another statement three days later because the first one was deemed insufficiently strong enough – this time apologising for the ‘emotional anguish’ the book had caused.
The situation is faintly Stalinist, with a grovelling apology following the howling denunciation. Clanchy originally protested on Twitter that she was being unfairly smeared. She also (falsely, it appears) claimed that certain lines were being misattributed to her book. But inevitably she has now fallen in line.
‘I’ve been given the chance to do some re-writing on Some Kids. I’m grateful’, she