Joanne Harris sees off vote to oust her from Society of Authors role

Novelist said ‘rationality has prevailed’ after resolution to unseat her as chair was comprehensively defeated

The novelist Joanne Harris has seen off an attempt to remove her from a leading position at the UK’s largest trade union for writers, illustrators and translators, after members comprehensively backed her in a vote.

A resolution that was debated by members of the Society of Authors at its annual meeting on Thursday said that Harris’s behaviour and comments were “not compatible with the society’s goals of protecting free expression and [its] policy of dignity and respect”.

In a vote of its members at its AGM, held online, a resolution to unseat Harris as chair of the Society of Authors management committee fell by 608 votes to 143. It represented 81% of voters backing her.

Reacting on Twitter, the 58-year-old, who wrote the 1999 novel Chocolat, thanked supporters and added “rationality has prevailed”.

The move to oust Harris followed a row earlier this year over her response to the stabbing of Salman Rushdie in New York state. The Booker prize-winning author lost sight in one eye and the use of a hand in the onstage knife attack.

Harris was criticised for launching a Twitter poll in the wake of the attack and after a death threat to the Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who had expressed solidarity with Rushdie.

Harris asked authors if they had ever received a death threat, offering a choice of answers: “Yes”, “Hell, yes”, “No, never” and “Show me, dammit”. Harris later deleted the poll and re-posted it with different answers.

An open letter signed by Julie Bindel and scores of other writers accused Harris of being flippant, and expressed “deep disquiet and anger at the Society of Authors’ abject failure to speak out on violent threats towards its members”.

A separate letter, also signed by scores of writers and industry professionals, supported Harris as “a stalwart, fair, dedicated, and passionate” chair of the society’s management committee. It criticised “seemingly coordinated attacks against her by a small, but vocal, minority, who have become known to many of us who use Twitter as persons who regularly use their own platforms to intimidate and bully those who do not agree with their ideologies regarding trans and non-binary people”.

Harris later said in a tweet that she believed the criticism of her was a result of her “support of the trans community”, adding: “I continue to support the trans community, as well as standing up for free speech for everyone.”

Rowling has repeatedly received death threats for taking a critical stance in sex and gender debates. She has denied being transphobic.

Bindel, along with nine other authors, proposed the resolution calling for Harris to stand down “in light of her documented behaviour and comments, which are not compatible with the society’s goals of protecting free expression and their policy of dignity and respect”.

According to the management committee’s response to the resolution, Harris had not been told of “the case the proposers believe she must answer”.

A second resolution before the AGM called on the society to review “how to pursue its stated aim ‘to protect free speech’” and “how best to protect the fundamental right of all authors to express themselves freely within the law”. It was also comprehensively defeated in the vote by members.

The Society of Authors represents about 12,000 writers. Harris has been chair of the management committee since 2020.


Harriet Sherwood Arts and culture correspondent and Harry Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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