Last month, author Junot Díaz wrote a widely lauded piece for The New Yorker about his experience of having been raped as a child, and how this trauma continued to affect him throughout his adult life. The legacy of this abuse was particularly apparent in his romantic relationships, he wrote, which were characterized by repeated cheating and intimacy issues. As he put it in the piece: “I think about the hurt I caused.” Now, several women in the literary world have come forward to describe their experiences on the receiving end of that hurt.
Author Zinzi Clemmons, whose 2017 novel What We Lose earned her recognition as one of the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 Under 35,’ posted the following tweets late last night:
Author Carmen Maria Machado, a National Book Award finalist for Her Body and Other Parties, went on to share a Twitter thread with her own story about Díaz, claiming he “went off on her” during a book-tour Q&A when she asked about his protagonist’s unhealthy relationship with women. “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 writes.
The thread continues, before concluding here:
Author Monica Byrne, who wrote 2014’s acclaimed sci-fi novel The Girl in the Road, likewise shared her own story on Facebook, alleging that Díaz shouted the word rape in her face during a dinner party, and that the evening only got worse from there. “I’ve never experienced such virulent misogyny in my adult life,” she wrote. “He made a point of talking over me, cutting me off, ignoring me.”
Speaking on the phone to the Cut this morning, Byrne said she saw Clemmons’s tweet at 3 a.m. and felt the need to support her, so she immediately sent it on to Machado and “the network was activated.”
“Every chance I gave, every time I opened my mouth, he needed to shut me down,” Byrne tells me of her own 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.”
“It’s always struck me how much the Establishment has protected him,” she continued. “These stories are everywhere, it’s an open secret in the literary Establishment. And everybody is scared to talk about it. And it’s because of this unquestioning support of him … It’s tricky because he’s a really successful Latinx writer and that’s really precious. But he built that by hurting women, women of color. And he’s received a lot of help in doing that. From the Establishment including from a New Yorker editor who didn’t ask [what he meant when he said he had hurt people] and just gave him the platform and lots of money to write that essay.”
Byrne said she saw The New Yorker piece as an effort to get out ahead of potential accusations. “Is it my opinion that he knew that this was coming for him and he wanted to get out ahead of it? Absolutely,” she said.
We have reached out to Clemmons and Machado for comment and will update this post throughout.
Update, 3.32 p.m.: Junot Díaz gave a statement to the New York Times via his literary agent. “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.”