Entertainment Books ‘Me-too’ erupts at Sydney Writers Fest as women writers’ accusations see Pulitzer winner drop out

‘Me-too’ erupts at Sydney Writers Fest as women writers’ accusations see Pulitzer winner drop out

Pulitzer-winning novelist Junot Diaz has quit the Sydney Writers Festival amid allegations abusive conduct. Photo: AP/Julie Jacobson
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Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Diaz has withdrawn from the rest of the Sydney Writers’ Festival events he was scheduled to appear at, following historical sexual harassment allegations made against him this week.

The Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF) issued a statement this morning saying Diaz had pulled out “following … allegations of inappropriate and aggressive behaviour towards Zinzi Clemmons and other young women”.

The American-Dominican author was called out by American writer Zinzi Clemmons, who was also participating in the SWF, on Friday during a Q&A at one of the festival’s panel events featuring Diaz.

Clemmons, author of What We Lose, did not identify herself during the question and asked Diaz about his recent New Yorker essay detailing his experiences of being sexually assaulted as an eight-year-old boy.

She asked why he allegedly put her in a vulnerable position when she was a Columbia University graduate student six years ago.

After the event, Clemmons took to Twitter to elaborate that Diaz allegedly forcibly cornered her and kissed her.

“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.

Other authors come forward

Another SWF participant, Carmen Maria Machado, shared her experiences on Twitter about Diaz’s alleged aggressive behaviour shortly after.

“He asked me to back-up my claim with evidence. I cited several passages from the book in front of me. He raised his voice, paced, implied I was a prude who didn’t know how to read or draw reasonable conclusions from text,” she added.

On Facebook, writer Monica Byrne wrote that she was at a dinner with Diaz and other writers and he had yelled at her because they disagreed. Ms Byrne, who was 32 at the time, said he had only known her “for maybe 10 minutes”.

“His response was completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent. I was speechless and felt sick.”

‘I take responsibility for my past’

In response to these allegations, Diaz, in a statement to the New York Times through his literary agent Nicole Aragi, said: “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.”

Further in its statement today, the Sydney Writers’ Festival said: “In his recent New Yorker essay, Diaz wrote, ‘Eventually the past finds you’ “. As for so many in positions of power, the moment to reckon with the consequences of past behaviour has arrived.

“Sydney Writers’ Festival is a platform for the sharing of powerful stories: urgent, necessary and sometimes difficult. Such conversations have never been more timely.

“We remain committed to ensuring they occur in a supportive and safe environment for our authors and audiences alike.”

Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008 for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, will be returning to the United States.