In a new interview with the Boston Globe, Junot Díaz makes a stunning about-face on allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him earlier this year.
The article, “Junot Díaz Case May Be a #MeToo Turning Point,” marks the first time the Pulitzer Prize winning author has spoken out about the allegations made by four different female authors. Each has accused him of abusive and misogynistic behavior; one of them, writer Zinzi Clemmons, says Díaz forcibly kissed her while she was a grad student at Columbia University.
Díaz says he was “confused” and “panicked” when he was confronted with the allegations, telling the Globe, “I was, like, ‘Yo, this doesn’t sound like anything that’s in my life, anything that’s me.’”
Shortly before the allegations came out, Díaz published an essay in April in the New Yorker where he came out as a rape victim, detailing the pain and aftermath of being sexually abused as a child. While the piece was publicly lauded, some people in literary and publishing circles privately wondered if the piece might be preemptive.
Then Clemmons confronted Díaz about his misconduct in May.
Clemmons, who confronted him in person at a panel in Australia and online via her Twitter account, wrote about the incident, “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.”
“I told several people this story at the time, I have emails he sent me afterward (*barf*). This happened and I have receipts,” she added.
Initially, Díaz didn’t offer any denial to Clemmons’ statements, instead issuing an apology via The New York Times.
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.”
So what happened to that responsibility? Díaz, who sat with a lawyer for his interview with the Globe, now says he felt no one would listen to him, and that the public had “already moved on to the punishment phase.”
“[D]efinitely, that statement is the worst thing I’ve written, the worst thing I’ve put my name to,” Díaz told the Globe. “Boy, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to rewrite the damn thing.”
While Díaz had to step down from his role as chair of the Pulitzer committee, other institutions have come to the acclaimed writer’s defense. MIT, where Díaz works as a creative writing professor, after launching an investigation into his behavior, opted not to discipline him. The literary magazine, The Boston Review, where Díaz serves as fiction editor, also declined to discipline him or remove him from his post. The magazine’s decision to keep Díaz on staff—defended in an open letter written by the editors-in-chief—prompted three of its poetry editors to resign in protest.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Clemmons responded to the story on Sunday via her Twitter, calling the article’s author “unprofessional and clearly biased,” and the piece itself “a complete sham.”
Writer Carmen Maria Machado, who accused Díaz of being verbally abusive and misogynistic, also responded on Monday via Twitter. She called the article “horrifying” and a “free-PR puff [piece].”