Author Junot Díaz MFA ’95 was accused of sexual misconduct and misogynistic behavior by female writers on Friday, according to The Washington Post.
During a literary festival, writer Zinzi Clemmons accused Díaz of forcibly kissing her when she was in graduate school at Columbia six years ago, according to The New York Times. While Díaz was participating in a panel at the Sydney Author’s festival on Friday, Clemmons asked him to explain his treatment of her.
In a tweet, Clemmons said she had invited Díaz to talk in a workshop about “representation in literature.”
“I was an unknown wide-eyed 26 yo, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me,” she wrote in the tweet. “I’m far from the only one he’s done this 2, I refuse to be silent anymore.”
Díaz, a professor of writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written four books including Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, according to his website. He was also awarded the MacArthur “Genius” fellowship.
Díaz wrote a piece for The New Yorker last month in which he said he was raped as an eight-year-old. According to The New York Times, Clemmons said that authoring this essay was Díaz’s attempt to pre-empt the new allegations.
According to The New York Times, Díaz said in a statement that he takes “responsibility for [his] past,” although he did not directly address the allegations.
“This conversation is important and must continue. I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement,” Díaz said.
Other writers followed Clemmons’ lead and shared their stories online, including Carmen Maria Machado, who said on Twitter that she had received “a blast of misogynist rage” from Díaz when she asked him a question during a Q&A session.
In a tweet thread, Machado said that when Díaz participated in a Q&A at her graduate school, she posed a question to him concerning the “unhealthy, pathological relationship with women” of one of his protagonists.
In response, she said Díaz “went off for [her]” for a duration of 20 minutes. He asked her to present evidence for her argument, which she then did.
“He raised his voice, paced, implied I was a prude who didn’t know how to read or draw reasonable conclusions from text,” she said in a tweet.
She also said that each time she responded to one of his questions, he “became freshly enraged” when she refused to give up.
“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,” she wrote.
Another writer, Monica Byrne, said in a tweet thread that when she sat next to Díaz at a dinner, she did not agree with him on one subject, and then he yelled “rape” to prove his point.
“He didn’t physically assault me,” she wrote in a tweet. “But shouting the word ‘rape’ in my face after knowing me for maybe ten minutes is absolutely verbal sexual assault. I left that dinner halfway through.”
Other authors, such as Chloe Benjamin and Alisa Valdes, have also come forward with stories about Díaz’s actions as well.
Díaz has been recognized by Cornell in numerous ways. A display in The Cornell Store currently features multiple famous Cornell alumni writers, including Díaz. The display includes a picture of the author, along with copies of three of his books.
“The Cornell Store is committed to offer books from diverse authors with varying points of view for the Cornell community, and the poster and related quote in Café Jennie in The Cornell Store highlights Junot Diaz’s accomplishments as a writer,” said Fred Piccirilli, director of The Cornell Store. “We are aware of and will continue to monitor reports of mistreatment and sexual misconduct by Mr. Diaz.”
In 2009, Díaz was awarded the Eissner Artist of the Year award by the Cornell Council for the Arts. During the award ceremony, Prof. Stephanie Vaughn, English, said that Díaz was involved in activism that led to changes in the Latino Studies program at Cornell.
“At Cornell, Junot Diaz was an activist whose work and whose protests were instrumental in reformulating what was then called Hispanic American Studies into what we now have as Latino Studies, and whose mission and activities are both … broader and more focused than they were before Junot Diaz passed through here,” Vaughn said.
He also protested unfair labor practices that immigrants in Ithaca experienced, according to Vaughn.
“He was also part of a group that protested the unfair … hiring practices of illegal immigrants who weren’t being paid anything by a pizzeria on North Aurora Street and in fact helped put that pizzeria out of business,” she said in the 2009 ceremony.
Regarding the new allegations, Vaughn told The Sun that she only knows what she has read online or in recent emails.
“The conduct described by women who have endured apparently horrific encounters with him, in particular the sexual assault narrated by the novelist Zinzi Clemmons, is abhorrent and frightening,” she said.
“But I am not among those who had information about his private conduct with women or his public belittling of women at dinner parties or writers’ festivals, and therefore I cannot comment on it except to observe that he did not challenge the stories in the press release he sent out over the weekend,” she added. “As a result, the reports are especially alarming at the universities, including Cornell, where he has taught.”
Prof. Helena Viramontes, English, also authored a statement to The Sun, saying that she wrote it as an individual and as a Chicana and Latina writer and not as a representative for the University’s creative writing program.
“The allegations of sexual misconduct by Junot Díaz, one of Cornell’s alumni, have resulted in an expansion of painful but vital exchanges, of bearing witness to trauma inflicted on the national stage in all its permutations,” Viramontes wrote. “I only hope — and our lives depend on this — that we continue to move towards a larger and exceedingly more complex series of conversations.”