An independent publisher, Swift Press, has acquired Kate Clanchy’s Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, after she and her original publisher Picador “part[ed] company” last month following controversy over the racial tropes and ableist descriptions in the Orwell prize-winning title.
Swift Press, which was set up in June 2020, said it approached Clanchy after reading that she and Picador were no longer working together. Its reissued version of the title, which details Clanchy’s experiences as a teacher, removes the words and phrases which had prompted widespread criticism from readers and contains a new afterword from Clanchy in which she writes of how she “still think[s] that my beleaguered, faulty text is worth reading”.
The announcement about the split with Picador on 20 January followed months of controversy over Some Kids. The title won the Orwell prize and was a bestseller, until Clanchy announced on Twitter that she had wrongfully been accused of racism on Goodreads by reviewers. But readers pointed out racial stereotypes in the book such as “almond-shaped eyes” and “chocolate-coloured skin”, a reference to one student being “so small and square and Afghan with his big nose and premature moustache”, while two autistic students were said to be “jarring company”. Picador initially said the book would be updated, but subsequently announced it would be stopping distribution and returning the rights to Clanchy.
Now, Some Kids has been released as an ebook by Swift Press, which said in a statement today that “it is our fundamental view as a publisher that readers should be able to make up their own minds”. According to the independent press, another indie publisher has also approached Clanchy to publish her poetry.
“I was pleased to have been approached by Swift Press, and that they will allow my work to remain available to readers, who will be able to judge it for themselves,” added Clanchy. None of the phrases mentioned above, included in the original, are in the new version.
“I was glad to re-engage with the text – it is a privilege for any writer – and I have listened to and benefitted from other people’s readings,” Clanchy writes. “The storm focused on particular words and phrases which I have been happy to change.”
Swift Press said that Clanchy “writes about her students with deep affection, and it is clear that she wants them to do as well as they possibly can”, pointing to testimonies from her pupils about her “unequivocal care and support” for them.“Partly because she writes with an often self-lacerating honesty, and in a way that explicitly shows her moving from positions of ignorance – or even prejudice – to ones of understanding, reasonable people have disagreed as to whether she was able successfully to capture the potential tensions between difference and sameness without exacerbating them,” said the publisher. “But it is our fundamental view as a publisher that readers should be able to make up their own minds.’ (Guardian)