Philip Pullman resigns from SoA Presidency

24 March 2022

Society of Authors’ President, Sir Philip Pullman, has today (24 March 2022) publicly announced, with great regret, his resignation from the role he has held since 2013.

He will remain a member of the SoA’s Council.

In a letter to the SoA’s Management Committee and Chief Executive, Nicola Solomon, earlier this month, Philip Pullman wrote:

It has been a privilege to serve as President of the Society of Authors. It was not a position that I had sought or campaigned for, so to be elected was a surprise as well as an honour.

The Presidency is not an executive position. Matters of policy are decided by the members through the Management Committee and the Society as a whole is administered by a Chief Executive. That state of affairs has worked well during most of my term as President, but recent events have made it apparent that when a difference of opinion arises, there is no easy way to resolve it within the constitution or the established practices of the Society.

When it became clear that statements of mine were being regarded as if they represented the views of the Society as a whole (although they did nothing of the sort, and weren’t intended to), and that I was being pressed by people both in and out of the Society to retract them and apologise, I realised that I would not be free to express my personal opinions as long as I remained President. That being the case, with great regret and after long consideration I chose to stand down.

The Society of Authors has done, and continues to do, great things on behalf of writers and the profession of authorship. Writers are all, members and non-members alike, far better off because it exists. I shall continue to support its invaluable work.

‘Complex and challenging world for writers’

SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said:

We were very sorry when Philip told us in February that he intended to resign, and regret that his personal views have come under so much scrutiny because of his Presidency of the SoA. Social media has changed the way we all communicate, organisations as well as individuals. We are in the process of reviewing the Constitution to reflect the times in which we live, including the roles of the Management Committee, Chair and President. The Management Committee will be making recommendations and the Council will discuss the role at their Annual Meeting in June 2022.

Philip has been a great personal and professional support for me in my work since I started at the SoA. Whether he was supporting our campaigns, or speaking with wisdom, eloquence and humour at our events and prize ceremonies, it has been a privilege to work with him as President. We are delighted that we will still be in touch with him as a member of the SoA Council. Many thanks to him and Jude for their support. I remember Philip once saying that to be a successful author requires hard work, talent and luck. He has the first two in abundance – we wish him the third in writing the final book in The Book of Dust trilogy.

The Society of Authors thanks Philip Pullman for all he has done for us. He has been a member for 35 years and has always been a staunch supporter of our work. He joined the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group Committee in 1991, and was elected to the Management Committee in 1999, serving two terms as Chair from 2001. He joined the SoA Council in 2004, prior to being elected President in 2013. He has served almost nine years of his ten-year term as President, which was due to end in June 2023.

When the previous SoA President, PD James, retired from the role, she predicted that her successor would ‘face a far more complex and challenging world for writers than did I when I was elected’.  On taking on the role, Philip Pullman said, ‘Authorship is a condition of mind, perhaps a calling, maybe even a minor disease, but among other things it's a profession. It's a profession whose constraints and rewards have been changing constantly since the Epic of Gilgamesh was first inscribed on a clay tablet, and are now changing more quickly and radically than ever. This is why we need the Society of Authors, of course, and why the Society has benefited so richly from Phyllis James's advice over the years.’

We can say the same and more about Philip. During his nine years as President, the working landscape for authors of all kinds has continued to change almost beyond recognition, not least the unfettered growth of Amazon, the rise of illegal downloads, publisher mergers, coupled with falling author incomes – not to mention the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit, which we are only now beginning to understand.

He spoke out on many issues that impact authors, including payment, libraries, independent bookshops, book piracy and book festivals – ensuring a far wider understanding of the issues facing authors than we could have achieved without him.

In 2016, Philip famously resigned as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival over its non-payment of speakers, writing in the Guardian that he ‘couldn’t reconcile it with being president of the Society of Authors’. This act amplified our festivals campaign and the argument that authors should not be expected to work for free. In the months and years that followed, many UK literary festivals, including Oxford, changed their approach and found budgets to pay the authors who make their events possible.

And during his presidency, the Society of Authors has gone from strength to strength. Membership has increased by over 30%, from 9,054 at the beginning of 2013 to more than 11,850 today.

Commenting on Philip’s resignation, Management Committee chair Joanne Harris said:

We are very sorry to see Philip resign. We thank Philip for his many years of service to the SoA, for his inspirational work with young readers, and for his kind support to me during my illness last year. In the role of President and in his work on the Management Committee and Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group he has been a splendid advocate for authors. At a time when politicians and industry heads were focused elsewhere, he has helped keep many of our concerns on the agenda.

About the role of President

The President is an ambassador for the SoA and comments on broad policy issues but has no role in the direction or governance of the SoA.  Each President is elected by the Society of Authors’ Council - an honorary body of up to 60 authors who have been exceptional in their support of the organisation. The President serves a five-year term and can be re-elected for a second term. Philip Pullman was due to complete his second term as President in 2023.