Statement from the Trustees of the RSL

There has been significant media interest in the Royal Society of Literature (RSL) in the last few weeks, following the RSL’s decision in December 2023 to postpone the publication of its annual literary review. The Trustees of the RSL met on 20 February 2024 to consider the concerns that have been raised against the RSL and its senior management team. The Trustees carefully considered all the relevant details and are making this statement to clarify their position in response to the concerns expressed by some of its Fellows and the extensive media interest.  

A number of Fellows and Vice-Presidents of the RSL have voiced disquiet about the postponement of the annual Review and the governance of the Society. The Trustees were unable to identify any areas where its senior management team acted outside their remit or without proper reporting and consultation with the Chair of Council. There were reasonable grounds for delaying the publication of the annual Review in December. The RSL is a charity run by writers for writers, it does not condone or practise censorship. The postponed issue of the RSL’s magazine will be published by the end of March. Without exception, all the previously commissioned content will be included in the new-look magazine as was confirmed in January 2024. The outgoing editor, Maggie Fergusson, will be warmly thanked for her work on the Review and her many years of service to the RSL.  

Some media reports have claimed that the procedures for becoming a Fellow of the RSL have changed in recent years. This is not the case.  The requirements for Fellowship remain the same: two works of outstanding literary merit or an equivalent body of work, as prescribed by the RSL’s Constitution. The addition is that members of the public will also be able to recommend writers to the Fellowship. All applications are reviewed annually by a specially convened panel of Fellows, with Council, Vice-Presidents, President and Presidents Emeriti having votes. The benefits of these additional steps are the engagement of a greater proportion of the RSL’s Fellowship in elections, increased transparency about the means of Fellowship elections, and support for the case that literature is for everyone. 

We are deeply concerned that there has been an unwarranted campaign of harassment of the Director and Chair of the Council and other members of the senior management team. These targeted individuals are all dedicated to their work and service to the RSL but have been unfairly criticised in the press and on social media. They have also been subjected to disrespectful and rude correspondence and this is unacceptable. 

The Trustees confirm their full support for the RSL’s Director, Molly Rosenberg. She is outstanding in her commitment to the charity and in the management of her hardworking team. The Trustees unreservedly condemn the inappropriate language and bullying nature of some of the emails sent to the RSL staff and Trustees. 

Bernardine Evaristo is our President and a figurehead for the charity. The RSL is deeply honoured to have her in this role and enormously grateful for her advocacy and dedication. She is not a decision maker or manager, nor does she have any responsibility for running the RSL. The manner in which she has been represented and her words twisted has been inaccurate and unfair.  

When Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed in 2022 the RSL, including its President, categorically condemned this horrific attack. Sir Salman Rushdie is a writer of major international distinction and we are honoured to have him as a Fellow. The Trustees of the RSL, its President and the management team remain appalled by the assassination attempt upon him and salute his lifelong dedication to freedom of thought and expression. 

The RSL upholds freedom of expression and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”   

Last year, the Trustees resolved to undertake a full and independent governance review of the RSL, which will be concluded as quickly as possible. As part of that process, the Trustees have decided to adopt a new code of conduct which will apply to everyone who works for and with the RSL to ensure that the working environment is safe and respectful for all. The Trustees are also committed to working with our Fellows and Members to ensure that everyone feels represented. 

The Trustees of the RSL are its Council: Daljit Nagra (Chair), Irenosen Okojie (Vice-Chair), Reza Vishkai (Treasurer), Imtiaz Dharker, Louise Doughty, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Helen Mort, Susheila Nasta, Roger Robinson, Ruth Scurr, Boyd Tonkin

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