JK Rowling part of group of 150 authors, academics criticising 'cancel culture' in Harper's open letter

Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Photo credit: Reuters

JK Rowling has joined 150 writers and academics in signing an open letter slamming so-called 'cancel culture' after calls for her to be cancelled following her controversial remarks about transgender identity.

The British author hit headlines last month after questioning the idea that "sex isn't real" in a series of tweets, which LGBTQ activists condemned as transphobic - comments she later explained but refused to retract in a lengthy blog post.

Now Rowling has joined a large group of famous names including Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood to denounce cancel culture - the online shaming of individuals who cause offence with their comments - in a letter published this week in Harper's Magazine.

In the letter, the group says that while a "needed reckoning" on racial justice has been a long time coming, it's also contributed to a "vogue for public shaming and ostracism" and "a blinding moral certainty".

"The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted," the letter reads. "We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters.

"But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organisations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes."

It continued: "We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

"We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences."

Other big names to have signed the letter include feminist Gloria Steinem, authors Malcolm Gladwell and Martin Amis, US intellectual Noam Chomsky, as well as New York Times op-ed contributors David Brooks and Bari Weiss.

Rowling's involvement in the letter didn't go down well with some, however, with author and transgender activist Jennifer Finney Boylan tweeting just hours after it was published: "I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well-meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming... I am so sorry."

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