Let’s Talk About: Separating the art from the artist

I never thought that I’d be doing two discussion posts within a week of each other that basically boil down to “Yes, _____________ are people too,” but here we are in 2020.


It’s no secret that J.K. Rowling has caused some uproar in the bookish community lately. Her long history of transphobic comments along with her recent essay defending herself using questionable data have caused many readers to distance themselves from her work. Her anti-trans opinions have been analyzed all over Twitter, book blogs, and bookstagram. This week, I’ve even received news alerts about things she’s said. Many readers have said that they no longer feel comfortable reading her work and no longer feel comfortable following people who support her. And who can blame them?

I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad for supporting Rowling’s work. I know that, for my generation especially, Harry Potter was a very formative book series. These are books that came out while we were the age Harry was in the books. I, along with most of my classmates, read each book as it was released. We waited in lines at midnight, we talked about the books between classes, we faked sick so we could stay home and finish them. There were parents who would let their kids take a day off so they could just marathon the books because they were so excited. And while I enjoyed the books as a child and teenager, Harry Potter is not a series that’s followed me into adulthood. It’s not a series that I’ve ever felt the need to reread or buy merch for or bring up in everyday conversation. But I also don’t feel that way about most books. Anyway, all of this is to say that I understand the impact that Harry Potter has had on the bookish community and even people who don’t consider themselves readers. For many, it was their first (and maybe only) experience with middle-grade and YA fantasy.

But at some point, an author’s behavior can be too much. At some point, it’s no longer possible to separate the art from the artist.


In case you missed it and have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a quick summary of Rowling’s recent controversy.

  • December 19, 2019: J.K. Rowling tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, a woman whose employment contract was not renewed after she shared anti-trans comments and purposely misgendered people on Twitter.
  • June 6, 2020: Rowling tweeted criticism of an article titled “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” stating that “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
  • June 6-10, 2020: Rowling received hefty blowback for her statement and tried to defend herself by saying things like “One of my best mates just called me. Self-described butch lesbian.” and “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction.”
  • June 10, 2020: Rowling posted an incredibly long essay on her website trying to further defend herself. Andrew James Carter breaks this down better than I ever could, so please read this Twitter thread below if you haven’t already:

Now, I do want to clarify that I don’t believe in cancel culture. I think that it’s very possible for people to grow and change, to educate themselves and become better. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of cancelling someone for something that they said years ago without giving them to opportunity to educate themselves and correct their behavior. What I do have a problem with, though, is public figures who continually spread misinformation or repeatedly act badly, who double down after being called out, and who use their platform to actively do harm.

In this day and age of having the internet at our fingertips, where almost anybody who’s reading this blog post probably has a smartphone with the entirety of Google in their hand, there’s no excuse for being misinformed. There’s no excuse for trying to push those misinformed beliefs on impressionable young readers. There’s no excuse for trying to invalidate the identity of an entire group of people.

My opinion on trans rights is pretty simple, and it’s the same as my opinion on anybody else’s rights: the way someone else lives their life literally has no impact on you. It costs you zero dollars to just treat someone the way you want to be treated. Trans women are women, trans men are men, nonbinary people are nonbinary. Why are people so concerned with someone else’s genitalia? It’s creepy. I’m getting a little distracted here, but what I’m really trying to say is that when you’re a public figure, and particularly a public figure because you write children’s literature, you have a responsibility to behave appropriately. There is no excuse for alienating and invalidating an entire group of people.


There’s an interesting concept called “death of the author,” which began in the mid 1900s and says that the author’s beliefs and behavior shouldn’t influence any interpretations of their writing. This concept is frequently used in arguments to support authors who’ve done problematic things, but for me, there’s only so much you can set aside.

What I think it’s really important to talk about is that even if you can keep Rowling’s personal opinions and the fantasy world she’s created separate, by supporting her books, you are supporting her. Every book, every piece of merch, puts money back into her pocket. We vote with our dollars, and I don’t know about you, but my dollars are not going to support a woman who can’t seem to stop tweeting out transphobic messages.


My point, after all of this, is that there comes a certain point when you can no longer separate the art from the artist. There comes a point when an author’s actions ruin the art.

If you’re looking for a new YA fantasy series to immerse yourself in, I would recommend literally anything by Tamora Pierce. She’s an incredible author who writes stories about female empowerment, she’s one of the few authors I’ve actually re-read, and best of all… she doesn’t tweet out harmful messages.

Please feel free to share any other author recommendations in the comments.


What are your thoughts on J.K. Rowling and separating the author from their work? Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

28 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: Separating the art from the artist

  1. jyvurentropy says:

    My thoughts on the Rowling controversy? She’s not transphobic. You should post her actual tweets instead of summarizing if you really think they are that bad.
    She said women have periods.
    You actually can’t acknowledge biological reality. What ARE we allowed to say? Can I say that women have XX chromosomes? is THAT transphobic? Do I have to say females have XX chromosomes? Is that a clear enough distinction between sex and gender?
    Listen, I think you and the rest of the bookish community should check out some conservative trans pundits to get the other side of trans issues. Plenty of trans people have no problem acknowleding biological reality, in fact they find it harmful not to do so. My favorite is Blaire White, but there are other conservative trans people to choose from. It’s not even your fault you believe something as innocent as ‘women have periods’ is hate speech. Everyone in the liberal media is telling you it is. But plenty of trans people see the harm in this kind of speech and are sick of liberal Cis people speaking FOR them.

    Like

  2. Never Not Reading says:

    I respect your opinion, but I don’t think I agree. For example, I have always loved The Golden Compass and the rest of His Dark Materials, but as a Christian I can’t stand what Pullman says about religious people. His interviews and writings are disrespectful and inflammatory. However, I’m still able to connect with the books and pull meaning, which is interestingly the opposite meaning from what he was trying to say. And I know a lot of religious people who feel the same way about those books. I think it’s interesting you bring up “death of the author” because it’s the leading perspective of literary scholars right now. Art, they would argue, is all about the reader and their experience. So if you’re a nine year old who has never been on twitter, nothing is stopping you from having a pure relationship with Harry Potter and (as happened with our generation) possibly even feeling seen/accepted as LGBTQ through the book’s message of love and acceptance. Or, in my case, if you can find a deep spirituality in His Dark Materials then it doesn’t matter than Pullman was trying to write an atheist Narnia. What matters is you, the reader, and what YOU find in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Never Not Reading says:

      I feel that I should clarify that part of my opinion is that, since everything depends on YOU the reader, if you can’t continue to enjoy something by an author you don’t like or disagree with, I’m not going to say you’re wrong. That’s your experience, and it’s valid. But at the same time, if YOU the reader can continue to enjoy something, I’m not going to say that’s wrong either. Basically, it’s an individual thing. Just for me personally I am able to completely fall into a book without giving the author or their intention any thought whatsoever.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

        Thank you for being so respectful! ❤ I totally agree that reading is a really individual thing and so is separating the author from their work. I also get what you're saying about kids reading HP for the first time and not knowing about any of the controversy. Little elementary school me would have had no idea what to do with this controversy or what it even meant, and that's a really interesting point that I hadn't thought about.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Heather says:

        I totally agree that it is going to depend on the reader. Out of curiosity, do you still purchase those authors’ works, or do you seek them out from libraries or other free sources so you’re not supporting them monetarily?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Never Not Reading says:

        This might not be a super popular opinion, but I do not stop buying an author’s work just because I disagree with them. My thought is that “boycotting” an author because they are, for example, anti-gay-marriage (which was a big thing with a certain author on twitter about 3 years ago) is exactly the same as “boycotting” an author because they are pro-gay-marriage. And I think we can agree we would all have a problem with that. Monetarily supporting a human does not, in my opinion, equate to monetarily supporting one single belief that person may hold.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Heather says:

    I am 43 years old, and being a fan of HP *was* part of my identity. I am angry and devastated about JKR’s comments about and stance on the Trans community. I am one of those people who cannot feel comfortable being a fan of HP anymore…I will not be able to separate the books from the author. If I tried to read them again, I wouldn’t be able to put JKR’s horribleness out of my mind. The last time I read them, I wish I would have known that it would be the last time I read them and felt good about them. Sigh. And again, I’m 43 years old. I can’t imagine how young people are feeling right now.

    I would also recommend Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series. It’s technically middle grade level like Harry Potter, but I found them as an adult and love them. She started writing the series in the 1980s, so they’re actually pre-HP. They’re really great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience with this, and I’m sorry that this happened with a series and an author that you loved so much. I totally understand what you’re saying, too. I’m 30 and not trans, and the way she just continues to compound on her thoughts with more and more dismissals of people’s experiences makes me so sad. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if I were a trans teenager that admired her.

      I don’t think I’ve heard of the Young Wizard series, but I’ll have to check it out!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heather says:

        The magic is so much cooler in YW, and I think I actually enjoy them a bit more than HP, but HP is so mainstream (and YW is so not), that I can’t really chat with people about YW like I could with HP. Hahahaha!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

        That makes a lot of sense to me! I was just having a conversation the other day about how you could start a conversation about HP with almost anyone and they’d have something to say. We couldn’t think of another YA/MG fantasy that had anywhere near the same reach.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura Beth says:

    I don’t appreciate the comments that JKR has made. I think she’s smoking something – I feel like she’s gone off the deep end a bit? However, I fell in love with Harry Potter years ago. I appreciate her for her books. If anything, this is teaching me multiple lessons about how social media has such a huge effect!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

      I also feel like she’s gone off the deep end a bit. And yes, I totally agree that this is a great lesson on the use of social media! The more popular you are, the more of a response you’re going to get, both from people who agree and people who disagree.

      Like

  5. Leslie says:

    Great post, Sara. I do remember getting into Harry Potter right before the last two books came out. I was late to the party. I remember waiting forever for my husband (boyfriend-then) to finish the last one, so I could read it. We went in together to buy it.. High school! haha. Anyways, I did enjoy them. I don’t really collect a lot of things besides what comes in my OwlCrate. Honestly, my favorite thing about the series is Snape and Always. haha. I never followed JKR. So, this isn’t a huge loss to me but I do think I could re-read them and not connect them to her. I do think it really depends on the reader and how they can or cannot distance themselves. Honestly. there’s like 5 authors I do follow and it’s because I don’t typically see the author when I’m reading. I just escape into the words and let the story carry me. I am 100% against cancel culture and it’s pretty much all social media is these days. I just tweeted about how annoying all these.. “if you don’t unfollow so and so, I’ll unfollow you.” What is that?! I’m rambling. I totally see your point and it’s definitely legit. I can also see that if someone still wants to enjoy the books then that’s okay too! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

      Thank you! I was in high school when the last book came out too and my friends and I went to Walmart at midnight to buy it. I honestly cannot believe my mother let her teenage kid drive all of her friends to Walmart in the middle of the night! They had the books in one of those big bins in the middle of the store and they pulled the cover off at midnight. It was very dramatic!

      And I totally agree about cancel culture. It seems like someone new is getting cancelled every time I log into Twitter. I think we’ve all said and done things at some point that would get us cancelled and that’s important to remember. I also 100% get not wanting to follow people who agree with JKR’s message, but I am also very sick of the majority of my Twitter feed being about unfollowing people. Follow or unfollow, do whatever you want, but I don’t see the point of passive aggressive messages about it. I think especially when you get into the “if you’re following someone who follows someone…” then we’re just over the top.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Leslie says:

        hahaha.. I only went to two midnight ones and they were for the last two Twilight books. hahahaha.. oh gosh!

        Yes, I’m so over twitter lately. It’s all so negative and everyone thinks they can tell other people what to do. No need to announce your exit Karen, Just go! Also, who cares what other people are doing so much?! Do you think because I follow Jack, who gave you a dirty look the other day, means I also gave you a dirty look too? Sigh…It’s gotten out of hand.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

        Yes! I find myself scrolling through Twitter and getting angrier and angrier and then I’m just like… Sara… it’s an app… you can close it. But the cycle keeps repeating, haha. If I didn’t learn new things on that app every day, I would probably delete it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Leslie says:

        Ahhh, I have never been big on Twitter but have been trying to use it more.. then all this stuff happened and everyday there’s someone or something else. It’s becoming so toxic. I’m trying to just scroll by all the negativity!

        Like

  6. allanajune @happilybookish.blog says:

    Great post! I definitely do not agree with Rowling’s statements as she defines “womanhood” using biology. Little does she know that there’s lots of biology in play. There’s actually a lot of genetic conditions that cause primary amenorrhea so a lot of women do not menstruate without their conditions being addressed. Also, there are lots of sex development disorders. Some people with the XY chromosome are phenotypically female. It’s not just chromosomes… there are lots of receptors and other biology in play. These women are raised as females and lead their whole lives as women but it turns out their chromosomes say otherwise. Do they suddenly stop being women? Knowing about this, I know that womanhood is so much bigger and more complex than biology alone. I am so sorry to be so technical about this as a medical doctor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

      Thank you, and no need to apologize! I’ve spent most of my adult life working in hospitals (and now in risk adjustment) so I totally get what you’re saying. I had wanted to include something about that in my post, but since my certifications are in medical coding and not actual medicine, I didn’t want to get anything wrong. I think she’s also missing out on (or maybe purposely confusing) sex vs. gender, which is something they taught even in my very conservate Catholic school.

      Like

  7. abookowlscorner says:

    Great post – I think it’s really important to raise awareness and talk about these sorts of issues! However, while I do not support what J.K. Rowling said at all, I love the Harry Potter books so much that I would never be able to cut them out of my life. And I do think the books include a lot of important messages about discrimination – it’s a shame that their author apparantly can’t follow her own advice. I really don’t buy her defense, since, let’s be honest, if you were supportive of the trans-community, why would you even feel the need to write tweets like the ones that she did?
    However, personally, I still feel fine buying her books, since I absolutely adore them and I do think J.K. Rowling actually does a lot of good with the money she earns (like supporting her charity LUMOS, for example). And I also love reading Brandon Sanderson’s books, even though I know that he doesn’t support gay marriage because of how his Mormon beliefs define “marriage”. Personally, though, as long as I feel as though the authors are still trying to be inclusive, are trying to be open and learn, and don’t openly attack members of minority groups, I won’t write them off just yet. Some prejudices may be hard to overcome, and in many cases, the authors themselves may not even be aware of them. J.K. Rowling probably really believes that she isn’t transphobic.
    So it’s definitely great when people call authors out on saying things like this, because these types of conversations are desperately needed! I think it can actually be even more harmful when everyone stays in their bubble and we stop talking to people the minute they disagree with us. (Which is also why I find J.K. Rowling blocking people on twitter problematic).
    But I usually don’t have a problem separating the work from the author. However, I also definitely don’t see myself ever buying anything by Orson Scott Card, for example, because he very openly opposes LGBTQ+ rights and also uses the money he earns from his books to actively combat them.
    Maybe that makes me a bit of a hypocrite. I’m not really sure. But in any case, I’m glad we’re having discussions like this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

      Thanks for your comment, and it’s a really good point that there’s a difference between holding a belief and actively trying to harm a group of people. I totally agree that Rowling’s charity work is great, and I also agree that she probably doesn’t think she’s transphobic. (I think the -phobic suffix confuses some people since, of course, she hasn’t really said she’s afraid of trans people.) These kinds of discussion posts are so great because, for the most part, people have brought up a lot of points I hadn’t thought about. I love to read (understatement of the year, probably) and educate myself on different topics and civil conversations like this one are a great way to do that.

      PS: I also had no idea that Brandon Sanderson is Mormon! You learn something new every day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • abookowlscorner says:

        I totally agree! Your post really got me thinking about some aspects I hadn’t considered before, and I love that! And I think you can actually do quite a lot of damage by making offensive offhand comments, even if you didn’t intend them that way. Especially if you have a huge platform like J.K. Rowling does. So I think it’s great you’re discussing this, because ignorance is probably one of the biggest problems involved. Rowling might not even have been consciously aware of the fact that there are also men who menstruate when she made that comment, but that, I think, is also very telling about how uninformed a large part of our society is about the trans community. This isn’t only a problem that stems from one individual, but from a collective, so it’s awesome that you’re doing your part to shine some light on it!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. nsfordwriter says:

    Really well-written post, very interesting. I try to separate authors as people from their works. Having grown up with the HP series, I will always be fond of it. I do wish JKR would keep her inflammatory opinions to herself, surely she knows that every time she tweets something she will get a lot of verbal abuse for it. I don’t like her as a person but I’m not going to apologise to anyone for still liking HP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

      Thank you, and that’s totally fair! I’m sure there are some people out there demanding that everyone throw away their HP books and merch, but I think that’s a little overkill. It’s a series that means a lot to a lot of people, and I don’t think that pretending it doesn’t does any good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • nsfordwriter says:

        Also these books have helped so many children get into reading! I remember how exciting it was when each new book was released, never have I seen so much excitement for any other books. I’m disappointed in how JKR voices her opinions, as such a high profile figure, but I will always love the books.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Miss Camila says:

    For me it’s easier to part with everything related to that author than it may be to other people since I really got into the HO series when I was in my early 20s. As an adult I’ve had to experience that sort of heartbreak before, and I’m sure we all have in a way, when a childhood hero reveals their true colors. This is way worse because it’s a human rights issue, so it makes the decision to no longer support the author in any way, shape, or form obvious (for me).

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s