Just over a month after he was accused of sexual misconduct, novelist Junot Díaz has seen little in the way of professional repercussions.
In May, writer Zinzi Clemmons wrote on Twitter that Díaz had cornered and “forcibly kissed” her when she was a graduate student at Columbia University, adding, “I’m far from the only one he’s done this 2.” Soon after, authors Carmen Maria Machado and Monica Byrne went public with their own stories, saying that Díaz had publicly and harshly berated them each on separate occasions, in what Machado described as “a blast of misogynist rage and public humiliation” and what Byrne described as “verbal violence.”
Both Byrne and Machado were quick to distinguish their experiences with Díaz from a physical assault, but said they had reason to believe that other women had experienced worse from him.
“Those of us who have the privilege to speak out, whose experiences are ‘not that bad,’ are holding space publicly for those who have had much worse experiences,” Byrne told Vox in May, saying, “This is not an attention grab. This is a deliberate strategy, and it’s saying, ‘These women are not alone. There are worse stories. And we are going to be in the public eye until the women with those stories feel comfortable coming forward.’”
But as of mid-June, no further accusations against Díaz have surfaced, as he seems to be emerging from the accusations against him with minimal loss of status.
Shortly after the accusations against him went public, the Pulitzer Prize Board opened an investigation against Díaz, who voluntarily stepped down from his position as chair of the board. He remained a member of the board’s body, however, and both MIT (where Díaz is a professor of creative writing) and the Boston Review (where Díaz is fiction editor) have announced that they are continuing their relationships with Díaz.
Momentum turned further in Díaz’s favor after an anonymous Twitter account published an audio recording of his encounter with Machado, demanding, “Where’s the rage? Where’s the misogynistic rant?”
In the 2012 recording, Machado — then a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — asks Díaz about his decision to write in the voice of a character with a “borderline sociopathic disregard for everyone he fucks.” (She’s describing Yunior, Díaz’s alter ego and the character who recurs across his novels.) Díaz’s response is lengthy (about 15 minutes long) and defensive, but in audio form it seems to come across as slightly exasperated and coolly condescending, rather than the “blast of misogynist rage” Machado described.
“Anyone who took [Machado’s] story at face value should probably give it a listen,” said one representative response. “Personally, am not hearing rage here (or the alleged ‘bullying and misogyny.’)”
“It should be noted that the audio doesn’t reflect body language or atmosphere at all,” Machado tweeted. “Anyone who was there — and there were a lot of people there — will tell you how tense the room was. A clue is the occasional nervous laughter that pops up from the audience.”
In an interview with Vulture, Machado said that her intent in sharing the story was the same as the intent Byrne outlined back in May: to signal-boost Clemmons’s story and create space in which other women might come forward with their own stories. “It wasn’t about me,” Machado said. “I’m not a victim of Junot Díaz. I’m a female writer who had a weird interaction with him.”
For the time being, Díaz appears to retain the institutional clout to withstand any number of stories about “weird interactions.”