by UnHerd News
Wednesday, 26
January 2022
Video
17:30

Kate Clanchy: my life’s work has been taken away

The writer speaks to Freddie Sayers about teaching, writing, and cancel culture
by UnHerd News

Kate Clanchy is a writer, teacher, and editor. She has been a qualified and practising teacher since she was 22. Her writing includes three prize-winning collections of poetry, the Costa First Novel Prize-shortlisted Meeting the English, and the Orwell Prize-winning memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. 

Last summer, her work came under sustained criticism for its purportedly insensitive depictions of her students. Picador, her publisher until last week, did not come to her defence.

Instead, it was left to Clanchy’s students, whose poems were collected by her in England Poem from A School, to support her. In September, at least 20 of them wrote an open letter to The Bookseller, describing Clanchy’s “unequivocal care and support for us… as poets and as people”. They said they wanted to push back against suggestions that they “may be victims in some capacity”.

Yesterday, she came to the UnHerd studio to discuss her experiences — of teaching, writing, and cancel culture —  for the first time.

She explained how the campaign against her began when people accused her of “exocitising and commodifiying” her immigrants students after she published an anthology of their poems. From there, Clanchy felt a campaign building against her. Following the publication of her memoir — for which she won the Orwell Prize — she was accused of being “racist and ablest”, even though she was trying to celebrate her student’s differing cultures:

We’ve got huge — especially in the last 20 years in the south of England — quite amazing numbers of very recent migrants from Europe and from every continent of the globe, presenting. With their appearance and with their nationality, they want two things: they want to fit in and be accepted. But they also want their differences to be acknowledged. And every encounter is a dance between those things as it is between every human being.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

On the effect of being forbidden to celebrate these differences:

Deadening, I suppose. It’s completely different from the real world. And this argument on Twitter won’t stop young people relating to each other and remaking English and changing the world. It’s got nothing to do with that, really.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

How her pupils felt:

My students were upset. It’s very upsetting to have disgrace poured on something that you’ve been deeply involved in, of course.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

On the cancellation feeding frenzy:

People were caricaturing every single thing I’d done. There wasn’t anything I could do about it. And they were saying that I was some of the things that I most fundamentally hate. […] They were all the worst things that I could possibly imagine, to have my words disordered and turned upside down. And to have my books thrown away.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

Did she inflame the blowback?

I did, absolutely. It was absolutely my fault. And I really wouldn’t want that to impact on anybody. But then it really went very huge…It was the three lines, really: Ashkenazi nose, chocolate skin. They misquoted, people constantly said Jewish nose, which is not something I ever wrote. Context was never there.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

On the publisher’s ‘apology’:

They apologised for my racism. And they forgot that I was a live human being in charge of other live human beings. They forgot that I was a teacher. They forgot I was a human being altogether. I’ve never been so shocked in my life when I heard that apology go out. It went over my agent’s head, my head, my editor’s head. Anyone who’d read the book was put out of the room.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

On the murky future of memoir writing:

I think anyone who’s writing a memoir should be very concerned, because what they said in the end was that they’re responsible for offence on the internet. And I don’t think publishing can be responsible for offence on the internet. You’ve got to be responsible for the portrayals of young people. Nobody has complained. That’s the test of a memoir.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

On her expectations about the reception to this interview:

After this interview people will say, ‘she’s going for sympathy points, or she’s trying for the cancelled points,’ or things like that. […] But this is my actual life’s work – everything that I’ve always worked for, it has actually been taken away. It really does happen.
- Kate Clanchy, UnHerd

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Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago

Much as its regrettable that anyone gets stick online, I’m afraid that this is a classic example of different groups of lefties fighting each other. Which i find difficult to get upset about.
Type 1 Lefty – Middle aged lefties who think Britain is racist and encourage kids to see themselves as victims because of British society (really meaning conservatives and the white working class)
Type 2 Lefty – Millennial lefties who think that Britain is racist and encourage kids to see themselves as victims because of middle-aged lefties stereotyping them!

Last edited 3 months ago by Matt M
R Wright
R Wright
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Pretty much. I care little for internecine warfare between liberals and progressive liberals. As far as I am concerned one is merely the progeny of the other.

rodney foy
rodney foy
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

What’s her politics got to do with it? She’s clearly been greatly wronged. She isn’t fighting anyone, just explaining what has been happening from her point of view, almost reluctantly

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago
Reply to  rodney foy

Well for a start our immigration laws don’t disadvantage immigrant kids as she says (quite the opposite) and you shouldn’t encourage kids to explore and develop their Irish or Somalian identities as she says in the interview. You should teach them to be British and proud.

But I agree she has been wronged by her publisher and I’m sorry for that. She should have some kind of recourse.

Last edited 3 months ago by Matt M
rodney foy
rodney foy
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

So the British who form colonies in Spain should learn to be Spanish and proud?

Some could write poetry in English when it wasn’t their first language.

She said “they want to fit in and be accepted”

Last edited 3 months ago by rodney foy
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago
Reply to  rodney foy

“So the British who form colonies in Spain…..” They should at least learn to speak one of the languages of Spain – Many do not.

L Walker
L Walker
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

I spent 4 years in Spain and I tried very hard to learn the language. Great country, loved it there. I also spent 3 years in Italy, also worked hard at learning the language. Also a great country.

rodney foy
rodney foy
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

I agree, and I think her pupils did that

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I’m going to watch this tomorrow when I have a chance, but as I need a trigger warning about such things, does she bother to elaborate on that assertion?
I’m guessing not from your tone.
What has happened to her is wrong, but I do get the sensation this is woke on woke fire.

Last edited 3 months ago by Andrew Dalton
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

“Well for a start our immigration laws don’t disadvantage immigrant kids”
Open borders are what disadvantage immigrant kids. If you’re at the bottom of the economic pile, as immigrants tend to be, you’re more vulnerable to the downward pressure exerted on wages by continuous mass immigration. Rational immigrants support immigration controls.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Yes. I was surprised to hear that from groups of Sihks in several factories in the Black Country way back in the 90s. Many of whom were probably supporters of Enoch Powell. For those not aquainted with the geography of the UK the “Black Country” is the area around Birmingham and Wolverhampton in the English Midlands – a name given to the area that was in the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and caused by the smoke from hundreds of poorly designed factories

rodney foy
rodney foy
3 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I’m not sure if it’s true that immigrants tend to be at the bottom of the economic pile. I’ve heard of professionals who have been uprooted because of war. Are there statistics on this anywhere?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago
Reply to  rodney foy

Professionals uprooted because of war often end up working as e.g. cabbies in the countries they migrate to. Even those not uprooted by war often find themselves having to take lower-status and less well-paid jobs. The barman in my local a couple of years back was a Spanish engineer.

Maighread G
Maighread G
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I think the kids can explore their heritage and be proud of it and they can also at the same time be encouraged to regard themselves as British and be proud of that too.
‘We contain multitudes.’

Claire D
Claire D
3 months ago
Reply to  rodney foy

“She is’nt fighting anyone.”
If she had fought instead of abjectly apologising she might not be feeling as if her life’s work has been taken away from her now. Sometimes you have to fight.
I realise though that the online attacks came on top of her bereavements. She had a particularly difficult year by the sound of it. I hope she’ll recover and do good work again.

Last edited 3 months ago by Claire D
rodney foy
rodney foy
3 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

I suspect she hoped apologising would diffuse the situation. I think you could be right about fighting. She is resilient, but I guess not a fighter

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago

‘exocitising and commodifiying’…. The dictionary of the Woke is making me increasingly at different times critical, angry, scathing, exhausted and I will admit it, giggly (well huge guffaws of laughter).

Christine Thomas
Christine Thomas
3 months ago

“Exoticising and Commodifying” might well describe many an immigrant’s expectations/illusions about level and nature of equal opportunities that British society offers all its citizens. Any disappointment on that score doesn’t necessarily make one any more a victim than the reasons for leaving country of origin.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago

You must absolutely never apologise to the woke scum. You have to do the opposite. The only way to deal with them is to tell them very bluntly to far cough.

L Walker
L Walker
3 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Absolutely, never apologize to Twitter scum. Attack them as bullies at least.

Joe Donovan
Joe Donovan
3 months ago

This is deeply upsetting. And the people who are ruining this woman are quite self satisfied because they consider themselves to be champions of some kind of “justice.”

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 months ago

Very interesting interview. Ms. Clanchy seems like a highly decent person and I’m sorry that she is the latest to get caught up in the woke madness. I’m in a state of disbelief at how things like this can happen.
I wish Ms. Clanchy all the best.

rodney foy
rodney foy
3 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It’s surprising how few here show any empathy or sympathy. Actually, I’m more sad than surprised

James Joyce
James Joyce
3 months ago

Let’s not shed any tears for this vile woman, who represents so much of what I hate–particularly her love for multiculturalism and her disdain for her country. This is why London is no longer an English or even a British city, and why the UK is unrecognizable except as a cesspool of a failed UN project.
I celebrate her demise, and lament that she ever rose as high as she did because of her gentle wokeness. Don’t mistake her friendly demeanor and soft-spokeness for reasonable positions; she is as disgustingly woke as they come. Much as I enjoy the left tearing each other apart, I do not believe that one should be censored or cancelled because of one’s political beliefs, even if, as here, her views are anathema to my own. She has been treated shabbily by her publisher and should seek redress.
Her gentle wokeness did not save her from the woke mob, nor should it. She should not have a platform to celebrate multiculturalism, so in that sense, good riddance! Is it ironic that she was cancelled by the very people she attempted to elevate her entire career?

Last edited 3 months ago by James Joyce
L Walker
L Walker
3 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Multiculturalism will be the death of England, Canada and my own country, the US.

Christine Thomas
Christine Thomas
3 months ago
Reply to  L Walker

From what you say seems you should well know what you are talking about. Coming from the USA though, I can’t tell whether you are a First Nation descendant or God only knows what cultural mixture.

Last edited 3 months ago by Christine Thomas
James Joyce
James Joyce
3 months ago

Your point?

Maighread G
Maighread G
3 months ago

Wonderful Interview.
Kate is so right; ‘there are real things in the world’, real causes worth getting riled up about. Such a pity so many are wasting their energy taking offence and participating in Twitter pile-ons.
And Freddy is spot on when he says we are living in strange times when such a gentle, thoughtful and intelligent person is considered ‘a menace to society.’