Pulitzer prize winning author Junot Diaz has just been publicly accused by several women of sexual harassment.
Last night, Zinzi Clemmons, author of What We Lose, posted about her experience with Diaz while still a college student. Well, to be specific, she posted on Twitter after she publicly accused him of harassing her at a live Q&A session at a literary festival in Sydney, Australia (that he has now dropped out of). Vulture reports that the mostly white and older audience rallied around Diaz, while Clemmons made her statement, dropped the mic and walked out, only to tweet thusly later that night:
As a grad student, I invited Junot Diaz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature. I was an unknown wide-eyed 26 yo, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me. I’m far from the only one he’s done this 2, I refuse to be silent anymore.
— zinziclemmons (@zinziclemmons) May 4, 2018
This prompted other women writers to speak about their own unpleasant, violent or misogynistic experiences with him, including author of sci-fi novel The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne, and author of Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado.
In a Facebook post, Byrne detailed how Diaz verbally harassed her at a party when she disagreed with him on a literary point , while Machado, in a series of tweets, talks of how Diaz loudly and aggressively tried to humiliate her at a public gathering (again, for disagreeing with him), how she’s heard about numerous instances of sexual misconduct by Diaz and feels “weirdly lucky” that “‘all'” she was subject to was this misogynistic public outburst. Machado also took on the real difficulty of addressing the sexual misconduct of a widely loved Latinx literary figure when there are so few successful Latinx writers out there, and the few that are successful are so dearly beloved to members of the community. Meanwhile, on 4 May, writer/producer Alyssa Valdes published a blog post titled ‘I Tried to Warn You about Junot Diaz‘, where she talks about how she publicly discussed Diaz’s virulent misogyny ten years ago, and was punished for it severely.
Intriguingly, Anna Silman, writing in The Cut, begins her piece on the allegations with a carefully positioned reference to Diaz’s own essay in The New Yorker last month, where he detailed the experience of being raped as a child, and how that legacy of abuse has led him to cause hurt in many relationships in adulthood. Silman begins discussing the allegations against Diaz by saying, “Now, several women in the literary world have come forward to describe their experiences on the receiving end of that hurt.”
The same piece quotes Monica Byrne saying that she believes Diaz published the essay in The New Yorker last month as a pre-emptive move, and a way to avoid or deflect potential accusations. “Is it my opinion that he knew that this was coming for him and he wanted to get out ahead of it? Absolutely,” she said. That does feel like a harsh take to have on a person’s revelation that they were assaulted as a child but reading Byrne’s take on the matter does immediately bring to mind how Kevin Spacey chose to come out as gay for the very first time when he was accused of sexual harassment in October 2017.
Still, all is not lost. You do get some hopeful feelings (or at least feel as hopeful as these situations allow) when you read how the allegations against Diaz ended up being made pretty much simultaneously. Byrne says she saw Clemmons tweet, forwarded it to Machado with the intention of supporting each other, and thus “the network was activated”, which in these utterly bizarre #MeToo times, is a phrase that really gives you the kind of powerful thrill you feel when you read lines like “we are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn”, or “they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds”.
The highly therapeutic and almost uniformly supportive comments section on Zinzi Clemmons’ tweet, by the way, has turned into a veritable reading list of women authors and writers. Writers like Mona Eltahawy, Bina Shah, Cheryl Strayed, Celeste Ng, Crystal Fleming (author of How to Be Less Stupid about Race), National Award winner Jesmyn Ward and so many more all showed up to express their solidarity, love and support for Zinzi.
And if you also want to express some solidarity and appreciate Zinzi Clemmons, Monica Byrne and Carmen Maria Machado for the brave action they just took, what better way to do it than going out and buying their books? And while you’re doing this, American book readers, you can stew in the infuriating knowledge that women’s fiction is priced 45 percent lower than fiction written by men, as just discovered by this huge American study of the pricing of over 2 million books.
Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly quoted Vulture as having reported that the audience was mostly white and male.