The Pulitzer prize-winning author was accused of sexual misconduct by author Zinzi Clemmons after revealing last month he had been raped as a child
The acclaimed Dominican American novelist Junot Daz has been feted for his powerful literary expression of the pain of sexual violence. In 2008 he was awarded the Pulitzer prize for his book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the story of a young boy growing up amid abuse in New Jersey, and last month he was widely applauded for writing a confessional essay about being raped when he was eight years old.
But this weekend Daz has cancelled his scheduled appearances at the Sydney Writers festival following a public accusation of sexually inappropriate behaviour.
Daz, 49, was confronted with the claims by the writer Zinzi Clemmons both during a festival event and on Twitter. As a grad student, I invited Junot Daz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature, Clemmons tweeted on Friday. I was an unknown wide-eyed 26-year-old, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me. Im far from the only one hes done this to. I refuse to be silent any more.
On Saturday morning the festival confirmed that Daz had withdrawn from his remaining sessions. He is thought to have left Australia soon afterwards. A panel discussion entitled The Politics of Empathy that Daz had been due to take part in later in the day was cancelled.
Sydney Writers festival is a platform for the sharing of powerful stories: urgent, necessary and sometimes difficult, the festival said in a statement. 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.
Clemmons followed up her accusation with a further tweet in which she wrote: I told several people this story at the time I have emails he sent me afterward. Clemmons confronted Daz about his alleged behaviour during a public question-and-answer session on Friday, asking why his recent essay in the New Yorker had not said more about his own bad conduct.
The panel moderator Ashley Hay apologised to Daz, attempting to defuse the situation, and Clemmons left the theatre.
After Clemmons tweets appeared on Friday night, two other women wrote publicly about encounters with Daz. Carmen Maria Machado, a 2017 National Book Award finalist also attending the Sydney festival, tweeted that he had angrily rounded on her in public when she questioned the pathological attitude to women of one of his characters. In a thread of tweets that followed, Machado said Daz has treated women horrifically in every way possible.
On Friday another writer, Monica Byrne, wrote in a Facebook post that she experienced a verbal sexual assault at the hands of Daz at a literary festival in 2014, adding she had never experienced such virulent misogyny in my adult life.
The authors New Yorker essay, The Silence, told of his own childhood rape experience at the hands of a grown-up that [he] truly trusted.
After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be in trouble, Daz wrote, adding: And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again. I never told anyone what happened, but today Im telling you. And anyone else who cares to listen. In the essay Daz addresses a reader who once asked him if had been sexually abused. At the time, the author did not reply, but his New Yorker confession goes on to explain his belief that the abuse he endured as a child led him to mistreat women in adult life. I think about the hurt I caused, he wrote.
Daz responded to the accusations about his behaviour in a statement made to theNew York Times on Friday.
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 womens stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.
A Melbourne venue has confirmed that Daz will no longer appear there tomorrow following the cancellation of the rest of his tour of the country.
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