The #MeToo movement has been unapologetic since its inception and now it has come for the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz. Early in the morning on Friday, Twitter exploded with claims of sexual misconduct against the acclaimed author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her, and most recently Islandborn. Zinzi Clemmons, author of What We Lose, accused Díaz of cornering and kissing her when she was a grad student, and several other writers have chimed in with their own stories of Díaz’s inappropriate behavior towards women.
“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,” Clemmons wrote on Twitter.
Since her early morning tweet, many people have responded with their shock and, unfortunately, similar stories and statements that they are not surprised. For one, author Carmen Maria Machado, who wrote Her Body and Other Parties, tweeted a stream that revealed Díaz’s unhealthy views towards women. In a response to Clemmons’s original tweet, she gave her account of how Díaz “went off” on her for twenty minutes after she questioned This Is How You Lose Her’s protagonist’s “unhealthy, pathological relationship with women.”
During his tour for THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, Junot Díaz did a Q&A at the grad program I'd just graduated from. When I made the mistake of asking him a question about his protagonist's unhealthy, pathological relationship with women, he went off for me for twenty minutes. https://t.co/7wuQOarBIJ
— Carmen Maria Machado (@carmenmmachado) May 4, 2018
And it sucks for a very particular reason: people of color are so underrepresented in publishing, we have deep attachments to those who succeed. People are defensive about JD because there are so few high-profile Latinx authors. I get it. That doesn't change the facts.
— Carmen Maria Machado (@carmenmmachado) May 4, 2018
Machado goes into great detail explaining his behavior, including:
- “He raised his voice, paced, implied I was a prude who didn’t know how to read or draw reasonable conclusions from text.”
- “Every time he asked me a question, I answered it, and he became freshly enraged when I refused to capitulate.”
- “And I’ll never forget: his male handlers (presumably from the university? I don’t know) were sitting directly in front of me, and every time he spoke they nodded enthusiastically and in unison, and every time I spoke, they froze.”
- “But what really struck me was how quickly his veneer of progressivism and geniality fell away; how easily he slid into bullying and misogyny when the endless waves of praise and adoration ceased for a second.”
Reading through the comments on Machado’s Twitter thread, you’ll see other stories of his alleged sexism and misogyny, including those who remember being at that Q&A and support her account.
Pretty much everyone I know who has had classes with him hates him
— Gina (@gina_scooter) May 4, 2018
I remember this Carmen! I was there for the q & a. I was stunned and uncomfortable and others were too. Thank you for speaking up now and then. Hugs Xx
— Alexia Arthurs (@AlexiaArthurs) May 4, 2018
Wow. I had a similar but way less intense experience with him last year. I used to be such a fan of his. Oscar Wao changed my writing. After the experience, I threw out all his books and seriously doubted myself as a writer for MONTHS. It was horrible. I really hate him now.
— 👻🔪Let's Scare Jessica to Death🔪👻 (@jessiguess90) May 4, 2018
Meanwhile, others have tweeted about his alleged harmful and violent behavior towards women. Novelist Monica Byrne recounts a story in which he allegedly exploded at her and screamed “rape” after a minor disagreement.
I was 32 and my first novel hadn’t come out yet. I was invited to a dinner and sat next to him. I disagreed with him on a minor point. He shouted the word “rape” in my face to prove his. It was completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent. https://t.co/WQr0hLW8Z5
— Monica Byrne (@monicabyrne13) May 4, 2018
Poet and writer Meena Kandesamy, along with many others, pointed out that Díaz’s recent piece in The New Yorker, in which he confessed to suffering years of sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend when he was just 8 years old, may have been a preemptive attempt to paint himself as a victim instead of an alleged abuser himself. According to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 35% of perpetrators reported being victims of child sexual abuse themselves, as opposed to 11% of non-perpetrators. Study authors concluded that “the risk of being a perpetrator was positively correlated with reported sexual abuse victim experiences.”
Didn't name Junot Diaz when I first put out this tweet but had him in mind, and now I see my Twitter timeline full of the women speaking out, and we can clearly see how his New Yorker piece is both distraction and a preemptive attempt to smother criticism. https://t.co/J4qTYVmnVk
— meena kandasamy || இளவேனில் (@meenakandasamy) May 4, 2018
For his part, Díaz is currently staying silent on these allegations but it may only be a matter of time before the author is forced to speak up, either acknowledge and apologize or defend himself against what has been said about his past behavior. However, in The New Yorker piece, he admits to bad behavior after his childhood trauma, saying he was cheating and “hurting people in the process.” He wrote:
I was hiding, I was drinking, I was at the gym; I was running around with other women. I was creating model homes, and then, just as soon as they were up, abandoning them. Classic trauma psychology: approach and retreat, approach and retreat. And hurting other people in the process. My depressions would settle over me for months, and in that darkness the suicidal impulse would sprout pale and deadly. I had friends with guns; I asked them never to bring them over for any reason. Sometimes they listened, sometimes they didn’t.
His admission is part of a bigger conversation surrounding mental health for Latinos, along with Mariah Carey’s recent confession that she has been battling Bipolar II Disorder since 2001. However, for fans of the literary genius’ work, his past abuse does not excuse the #MeToo allegations. For her part, Clemmons was asked whether she believes that The New Yorker piece was a pre-emptive attempt “like Kevin Spacey’s ‘I’m gay’ diversion”, she wrote “Yes. And so do many of my colleagues.”
She also tweeted an update in which she claims to have she told several people the story of Díaz’s forcible kiss, and she has emails and receipts of the account.
If these allegations prove to be true, there is no telling what will happen to Díaz’s legacy.