Junot Díaz relinquishes Pulitzer board chair amid allegations of sexual misconduct
UPDATED MAY 10: The Pulitzer Prize Board announced Thursday that it has authorized an independent review of allegations of misconduct made against author Junot Díaz, noting, “Díaz said he welcomed the review and would cooperate fully with it.” The statement adds that Díaz has relinquished his role as chairman of the board, to which he was elected in April, but will remain on, pending the results of the review. Read the full statement here.
PREVIOUSLY: Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such acclaimed books as This Is How You Lose Her and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has been accused of sexual misconduct by a prominent author and misogynistic verbal abuse by two more.
The story began last night when Zinzi Clemmons, the acclaimed writer behind last year’s novel What We Lose, claimed via Twitter that Díaz cornered and “forcibly” kissed her when she was a “wide-eyed” 26-year-old graduate student; she also claimed that she’s “far from the only one he’s done this to.” She elaborated in a second tweet that she has proof of email correspondence between herself and Díaz about the alleged incident.
Another breakout 2017 author, Carmen Maria Machado (of the National Book Award finalist Her Body and Other Parties), then tweeted out a more in-depth story about an encounter she allegedly had with Díaz. She said that after she asked him a question about the This Is How You Lose Her protagonist’s “unhealthy, pathological relationship with women, he went off for me for twenty minutes.” Detailing the outburst, Machado alleged that Díaz raised his voice, paced, implied she was a “prude,” and continued to badger her until he “ran out of steam.” She also said she’s heard other stories of misconduct.
Finally, Monica Byrne, author of the 2014 sci-fi novel The Girl in the Road, alleged misconduct against Díaz in an extended Facebook post. Among other details, Byrne claimed that when she was at a dinner party with Díaz, he screamed the word rape in her face, and that several more uncomfortable encounters with him followed from there. “I’ve never experienced such virulent misogyny in my adult life,” she said. “He made a point of talking over me, cutting me off, ignoring me.”
EW reached out to representatives for Díaz and Clemmons for comment but did not receive a response. Machado and Byrne declined to comment further. In an interview with The Cut that followed her Facebook post, Byrne expanded on her allegations. “Every chance I gave, every time I opened my mouth, he needed to shut me down,” she said to the publication, of her experience with Díaz. “And I couldn’t understand why. Who am I to you? Why am I such a threat to you? The experience of that has stayed with me ever since; I mean, I left halfway through.”
Byrne added that she saw Díaz’s recent, well-received New Yorker essay, in which he revealed that he was a victim of sexual abuse as a child and has spent his entire life trying to move on from the trauma, as an attempt to “get out ahead” of potential allegations of misconduct against him. She said, “Is it my opinion that he knew that this was coming for him and he wanted to get out ahead of it? Absolutely.”
Through his literary agent, Díaz released a statement to the New York Times. “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.”
Díaz is most recently the author of Islandborn, a children’s books which has spent several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The book’s publisher, Penguin Young Readers, did not respond to a request for comment.