UPDATED 6:30 p.m. ET: Junot Díaz has responded to sexual misconduct allegations with a statement to the New York Times via his literary agent:
“I take responsibility for my past,” he said. “That is the reason I made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath. This conversation is important and must continue. I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.”
Read the original story below.
On Friday, author and professor Junot Díaz was accused of sexual and verbal misconduct by several women, as Book Riot first reported. Zinzi Clemmons, who debuted with the 2017 novel What We Lose and became a National Book Award 5 Under 35 honoree, initiated the conversation. She accused the Pulitzer-winner of forcibly kissing her during a workshop on issues of representation in literature, which she invited him to when she was a grad student.
In a second tweet, Clemmons said she has “receipts,” including e-mails Díaz sent her after the incident.
Complex has reached out to Díaz for comment.
Monica Byrne, author of Girl in the Road, came forward in both a lengthy Facebook post and Twitter thread with her own story of verbal sexual assault by Díaz. Byrne attended a dinner at a restaurant after a talk Díaz had given at the NC Literary Festival in 2014. The table began speaking about statistics in publishing, and Byrne brought up “how personal narrative is important in empowering the marginalized.” Díaz, allegedly shouting, said Byrne’s comments were like saying, “I haven’t been raped, so rape must not exist.” Byrne described his outburst as “bizarre, disproportionate, and violent"—including a shout of the word "rape" in her face—and said Diaz acted in a misogynistic manner throughout the rest of the dinner.
“I was struck by the total disconnect between his public persona of a progressive literary idol and how he actually treated women,” Byrne wrote on Facebook.
Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties, had a similar story about Díaz. She claims that during a Q&A at a graduate program, she asked Díaz about the notably “unhealthy” relationship that his protagonists have with women; in a number of his short stories and novels, the men in the story cheat on their female partners. Díaz became “enraged” and “raised his voice, paced, and implied [she] was a prude.” He refused to stop speaking, even after she suggested her question had been answered. “What really struck me was how quickly his veneer of progressivism and geniality fell away,” Machado wrote on Twitter. “How easily he slid into bullying and misogyny when the endless waves of praise and adoration ceased for a second.”
Machado went on to make another salient point: “people of color are so underrepresented in publishing, we have deep attachments those who succeed.” In other words, Díaz is a high-profile Latinx author, but his inappropriate behavior should not get a pass just because of that.
Díaz's small body of über-celebrated works is comprised of the Pulitzer-winning 2007 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and two short fiction collections, the most recent arriving back in 2012. Just a few weeks ago, he published a widely read and discussed essay in the New Yorker in which he spoke about being raped as a child. A number of people are openly theorizing that essay was a strategic way to divert attention from the allegations we're now seeing. (Kevin Spacey was accused of doing the same thing with his response to the claims of sexual harassment against him, using the moment to come out as gay for the first time in an attempt to shift the narrative.)
In that New Yorker piece, Díaz considers the people he has “hurt” as a result of the person he became, growing up with the secret of being violated as a child. He does not go into much specific detail about what kind of hurt he caused or who he hurt. Some have now begun questioning why that aspect of the piece—particularly in the era of #MeToo—was not expounded upon.
In related news, the Guardian reports the Nobel prize in literature this year has been canceled for the first time since 1949 after a sexual assault scandal involving a leading cultural figure in Sweden, Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to Katarina Frostenson, a Nobel Academy member. Arnault has been accused of sexual harassment and physical abuse over a period of more than 20 years by 18 different women in France and Sweden, including at properties owned by the Nobel academy.