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Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz accused of sexual misconduct

Author Junot Diaz
Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe/file
Author Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz, the creative writing professor at MIT who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is being accused of cornering and forcibly kissing a fellow novelist.

Zinzi Clemmons, author of “What We Lose,” tweeted about the experience Friday morning, writing:

The allegation comes just weeks after The New Yorker published an essay by Diaz detailing sexual abuse he suffered at the age of 8, and the emotional and psychological toll it has taken on his life and his relationships with women.

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In a subsequent tweet Friday, Clemmons, who was named to the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” list last year, said she believes the New Yorker piece was an attempt by Diaz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” to pre-empt allegations of sexual harassment and abuse from women such as herself.

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In a statement to The New York Times via his literary agent, Diaz said this: “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.”

Though the alleged assault happened years ago, Clemmons said she had shared her story with others. “I told several people this story at the time, I have emails he sent me afterward (*barf*),” she tweeted Friday. “This happened and I have receipts.”

Just as others came forward after the initial sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and Kevin Spacey, other women replied to Clemmons with their experiences with Diaz. Writers Carmen Maria Machado and Monica Byrne described conduct that was abusive and misogynistic.

“I was 32 and my first novel hadn’t come out yet. I was invited to a dinner and sat next to him,” Byrne tweeted. “I disagreed with him on a minor point. He shouted the word ‘rape’ in my face to prove his. It was completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent.”

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In a lengthy Facebook post, Byrne, author of the well-regarded 2014 sci-fi novel “The Girl in the Road,’’ wrote: “Díaz didn’t physically assault me. But shouting the word ‘rape’ in my face is absolutely verbal sexual assault. Moreover, I was struck by the total disconnect between his public persona of a progressive literary idol and how he actually treated women.”

In a series of tweets, Machado, a National Book Award finalist for her story collection “Her Body and Other Parties,’’ wrote about the time she approached Diaz at a book signing and asked him about a particular character’s unhealthy relationships with women. She says he became hostile and called her a “prude.”

“He asked me to back up my claim with evidence,” Machado tweeted. “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.

“Junot Díaz is a widely lauded, utterly beloved misogynist,” Machado wrote. “His books are regressive and sexist. He has treated women horrifically in every way possible. And the #MeToo stories are just starting.”

Other women, like Cambridge author Celeste Ng, chimed in to thank Clemmons for sharing her story.

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“We don’t really know each other, but I’m so sorry this happened,” Ng tweeted in response. “Thank you for speaking about it.”

In The New Yorker essay, titled “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma,” Diaz wrote about being raped by a grown-up he “truly trusted,” and the effect it had as he kept the experience a secret from his family and friends. He wrote about contemplating suicide, drinking heavily, and cheating on the women in his life.

“No one can hide forever,” Diaz wrote. “Eventually what used to hold back the truth doesn’t work anymore. You run out of escapes, you run out of exits, you run out of gambits, you run out of luck. Eventually the past finds you.”