Al Franken set off a massive internal conflict in the Democrat party when the allegations of his sexual assault came to light. At first it was just the word of one person. Then she had pictures. Then others chimed in. Then some of them had pictures too. Every time a defense was made, another layer of revelations would come out.
And defenses were being made because Franken had been the point man for the Democrat party in their outreach to the tech industry. He was valuable; he had built up a following among the influential people for a decade. He was being groomed for a possible Presidential run. The power players in the Democrat party did not want him to fall.
Now it’s happening again, this time in the publishing world.
Junot Diaz, who won the 2008 Pulitzer for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has been credibly accused of mental and physical abuse of women… including the strangely familiar allegation of forcibly kissing a woman and sticking his tongue in her mouth.
For those unfamiliar with Diaz, his credentials are impressive. From Amazon:
Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist; and a debut picture book, Islandborn. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Literary awards are less objective than the famously-biased music and film awards. Whereas all of the popular arts are subject to current trends and the overarching philosophies of the award judges, with literary awards there is another factor: people don’t read.
It is a commonly accepted statistic within the publishing community that the average reader reads two books per year, although polling shows the number may be a bit higher, as indicated by an article from The Atlantic. That statistic does not say the average person, but rather the average reader.
Further skewing those numbers are romance readers, a large percentage of which read more than twenty-five books per year; and science fiction / fantasy and mystery readers, who often read more than one book per month.
Unlike the movie and music industries, when egregious decisions are made by the award judges there is no groundswell of opposition from people who did not enjoy the acclaimed product. Instead, a book that wins one award will often win more based primarily upon the weight of the first award.
The sales figures of the award winners typically skyrocket. This does not mean, necessarily, that many people are reading the award-winning book; rather, it means that the author has been determined to be one of the cultural elite. They are given interviews, their books are taught in collegiate classes and they are the face of the publishing industry. Their books sit on the shelves of people who want to be seen having books – the correct books – on their shelves.
From this perspective, it becomes obvious why the publishing industry is trying to close ranks around Diaz. He was given space in the New Yorker recently to get his story out in front of what look to be a cascade of allegations of disrespect and outright abuse. The pull quote from the piece, explaining how he was abused as a child:
“I never got any help, any kind of therapy. I never told anyone.”
The article takes pains to explain that he’s never told anyone about the abuse before now, but that the abuse was the rationale behind his abuse of women. It seems designed to fuel suspicions about hte timing of the piece, especially because it was very shortly after the article was published that the first of many allegations against him was brought to light.
And, exactly, what are the allegations currently being cast? Some are simple mental cruelty, such as this from Twitter:
During his tour for THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, Junot Díaz did a Q&A at the grad program I'd just graduated from. When I made the mistake of asking him a question about his protagonist's unhealthy, pathological relationship with women, he went off for me for twenty minutes. https://t.co/7wuQOarBIJ
— Carmen Maria Machado (@carmenmmachado) May 4, 2018
And some reference physical abuse, like Zinzi Clemmons, who started this ball rolling:
As a grad student, I invited Junot Diaz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature. 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.
— zinziclemmons (@zinziclemmons) May 4, 2018
I've seen many doubt the severity of Diaz's behavior. Keep in mind it hasn't been fully disclosed yet, but consider this: After I confronted him, he cancelled a major tour and fled the country overnight. I have a fraction of his money, support, and credibility. Guilty conscience?
— zinziclemmons (@zinziclemmons) May 7, 2018
This story is the equivalent of the Kevin Spacey revelations for the literary world. Even if it doesn’t change the way the publishing industry operates, it is factionalizing the writers, editors and educators who decide what messages are to be promoted among the cultural elite.