The Right to Write

9 Nov

It isn’t long since I last wrote about the difficulties facing writers in terms of personal opinion, but it has been raised again. Recently, a publisher (they have declined to make a public statement, so I will respect that and leave them nameless) has barred a writer from writing from them (indeed, have gone back and deleted their presence from an anthology). The reason for this ban has nothing to do with his relationship with the press, but rather for his involvement with a ‘white supremacist’ website; indeed, as the publisher stated, there was nothing in his stories to suggest his holding of offensive opinions.

Now, at this point, we must assume the publisher was correct in believing that he was involved with this website (given that two people might share the same name and there is nothing to stop someone using a pseudonym, whether coincidentally or deliberately) and their assessment of its content is accurate. I haven’t had the time to attempt more than to verify that a person of this name has some sort of connection with a website that appears to contain some racist-sounding content. What their involvement is, whether it’s current and whether the site is, as the publisher has indicated, breaking the law, I don’t know.

One can sympathise with the publisher’s concerns that they might inadvertently be associated with views they find offensive and, as I’ve covered in earlier articles, there will always be that tension between supporting the right for an author to hold their views and the feeling that you might be funding that viewpoint by buying their work.

But, once again, it does create a situation where authors will have to ask themselves whether they dare risk expressing an opinion. There are those times that an anthology is aimed at a specific class of contributor, stories on a particular theme or is a charitable volume in support of a particular cause when people who are clearly opposed to its nature will be unwelcome (although, I would imagine such people would avoid contributing in the first place), and a press is, of course, free to choose stories that fit their ethos and opinions, rejecting those they find offensive or unpleasant for whatever reason. But, when a press goes beyond policing what they publish to what has appeared elsewhere, we enter a dangerous world.

As a publisher, I’ve never felt the need to ask someone their political views, any more than I desire to know their sexuality, race or religion. Of course, some people will tell me anyway, and such things may be made manifest in their writing (although, with good writers, one should never be certain whether a story is true to life or due to research and empathy), but all I am concerned about is the quality and content of their work. I’ve published people who I know to be in prison – I’ve never asked them why they are in there, as it has no bearing upon their writing.

Of course, for essentially amateur writers, this isn’t much of an issue as, while it could mean they will be barred by certain publishers, there are plenty of small-press publishers out there. But, for professional and semi-professional writers, who depend upon both exposure and access to paying markets, it presents a direct threat to their right express an opinion if doing so risks losing access to a publisher. And, while it might be obvious that something like racism is going to prove unpopular, who can say what other opinions will result in blacklisting? It might be best for aspiring writers to say nothing about any topic at all.

As within academia, it seems the spirit of McCarthy is still with us in the world of publishing. So, keep your opinions to yourself, if your want to be certain of acceptance.

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2 Responses to “The Right to Write”

  1. atlanteanpublishing November 16, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    You can find a comment from the affected author on my personal website beneath my article https://djtyrer.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/the-horror-of-free-speech/

    • Jarl Nicholl November 17, 2015 at 2:16 am #

      I appreciate what you have to say about the issue, Mr Tyrer.

      Your readers may appreciate a further exploration of these themes on a thread to which none other than Ramsey Campbell has contributed a couple of responses–over at the very webzine for which I was punished in the way you describe for contributing.

      The discussion is about the removal of Lovecraft’s likeness from the WFA bust, in connection with the Counter Currents HP Lovecraft Prize for Literature: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/11/the-counter-currents-h-p-lovecraft-prize-for-literature/.

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