“I think about the hurt I’ve caused,” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz wrote in a #MeToo-inspired essay in the New Yorker. In the widely-celebrated essay, Díaz wrote about his rape at the age of eight and its lingering trauma, including a suicide attempt. “The rape excluded me from manhood, from love, from everything,” he wrote. Díaz also attempted to grapple with “the hurt” he imposed on unnamed others, largely ex-girlfriends, expanding on some of the themes he explored in his 2012 short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her. “I don’t hurt people with my lies or my choices, and wherever I can I make amends,” Díaz wrote in his April New Yorker essay. “I take responsibility. I’ve come to learn that repair is never-ceasing.” Now Díaz fellow writers are calling on his to take responsibility for the “hurt” he alluded to.
On Thursday night, novelist Zinzi Clemmons tweeted that she was “forcibly” kissed by Díaz when she was “a wide-eyed” 26-year-old. Clemmons, whose novel What We Lose earned her recognition from the National Book Foundation, wrote: “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.”
In follow-up tweets, Clemmons said that she told “several people” about the incident and indicated that she has since “avoided literary functions” to stay away from “people like Diaz and Stein” (a reference to former Paris Review editor Lorin Stein who resigned after numerous allegations of sexual harassment).
In a subsequent statement to the New York Times, Clemmons said: “Junot Díaz 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’ first tweet was retweeted and elaborated on by writer Carmen Maria Machado whose 2017 story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the National Book Award. “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,” Machado wrote on Twitter. “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.” In a long thread, Machado recounted her hostile encounter with Díaz, interweaving it with a trenchant critique of the often misogynistic gender politics in his work. She wrote too about the literary community’s complicity, particularly the pervasive underrepresentation of Latinx writers that allows figureheads like Díaz to flourish despite the largely open secret of his treatment of women within publishing.
“Junot Díaz is a widely lauded, utterly beloved misogynist. His books are regressive and sexist. He has treated women horrifically in every way possible. And the #MeToo stories are just starting,” Machado concluded.
Machado’s suggestion that both Clemmons’s story and her own were the tips of a proverbial iceberg was repeated by numerous writers, including Roxane Gay who alluded to the “whispers” that have followed Díaz for years.
On Facebook, writer Monica Byrne recounted at length an aggressive confrontation with Díaz, writing that she was “struck by the total disconnect between his public persona of a progressive literary idol and how he actually treated women.”
Many writers, including Clemmons, also suggested that Díaz’s New Yorker essay was written with the anticipation of forthcoming #MeToo allegations.
Representatives for Díaz did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment, and neither did Riverhead books, Díaz’s publisher. In a statement issued to the New York Times through his literary agent, Díaz did not directly address Clemmons’ allegations. “I take responsibility for my past,” Díaz said. He added: “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.”
Jezebel has also reached out to Clemmons and Machado. We will update this story as necessary.