Junot Diaz was accused of inappropriate behavior by author Zinzi Clemmons on Friday, writing on Twitter: “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 posted online after questioning Diaz from the audience at a Q&A session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, where both were speaking. “This was my question [she wrote later on Twitter]: ‘Many of your colleagues have suggested online that you wrote the New Yorker article to pre-empt accusations coming out against you. Would you like to respond to that? And would you like to apologize for your behavior towards me when I invited you to Columbia six years ago?”
On Saturday, the Sydney Writers’ Festival said that Diaz had withdrawn from his remaining scheduled appearances at the event. The organizers emphasized their committment to providing a “supportive and safe environment for our authors and audiences alike.” They noted the line in Diaz’s recent New Yorker essay — “Eventually the past finds you” — and stated, “As for so many in positions of power, the moment to reckon with the consequences of past behavior has arrived.”
Following Clemmons’ post, Carmen Maria Machado described second-hand misconduct accusations against Diaz on Twitter, and both she and Monica Byrne recounted incidents in which he is said to have been verbally aggressive with them and other women.
In a statement to the New York Times, via his agent Nicole Aragi, Diaz did not respond to specific allegations, but said, “I take responsibility for my past. 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.”
Clemmons mused on that statement on Twitter: “I have read his apology many times trying to make sense of it, but the words just rearrange into a soup of unintelligibility. You take responsibility how, in your head? What is that? And thanks for siding with your investment, Nicole Aragi. Good to know where you stand.”
Last month the New Yorker published an essay in which Diaz wrote about having been sexually abuse as a child and his treatment of women as an adult, in which he wrote: “No one can hide forever. Eventually what used to hold back the truth doesn’t work anymore. You run out of escapes, you run out of exits, you run out of gambits, you run out of luck. Eventually the past finds you.” The magazine has not responded to requests for comment about the piece. Diaz’s publisher Riverhead Books and MIT, where he teaches writing, have also not commented.
Clemmons told the AP “she believed she was far from being the only woman ‘exploited’ by Diaz.” And she told the NYT, “Junot Diaz has made his behavior the burden of young women — particularly women of color — for far too long, enabled by his team and the institutions that employ him. When this happened, I was a student; now I am a professor and I cannot bear to think of the young women he has exploited in his position, and the many more that would be harmed if I said nothing.”
Clemmons also drew attention online to a different case of alleged harassment in book publishing in another Tweet: “As difficult as the Diaz situation was, it was a different kind of pain watching my husband [poet and translator Andre Naffis-Sahely] attempt to do what was right and encounter this level of resistance & dismissal from people who are supposed to be our advocates.”
Naffis-Sahely posted a statement on Twitter regarding his former editor at Penguin UK, whom he says was investigated by the publisher following an accusation of inappropriate behavior.