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Literary journal retains Junot Diaz as fiction editor despite allegations of sexual misconduct

Gretchen Ertl/The Boston Globe
Author Junot Diaz in Cambridge last year.

Not everyone is distancing themselves from author Junot Diaz as a result of the recent sexual misconduct allegations.

Boston Review, a magazine about politics and literature that describes itself as a “public space for robust discussion of ideas and culture,” has decided to retain Diaz as fiction editor, a post that the Pulitzer Prize winner has held since 2003.

The journal said it did a “careful review of the public complaints” as well as its own inquiry — “particularly with women writers of color in the world of literary fiction” — and decided to keep Diaz on.

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“These are complex issues,” Deborah Chasman, Boston Review’s editor in chief, said in a statement signed also by the mag’s co-editor Joshua Cohen. “Reasonable people — who share our commitment to gender equality and are also fighting against biases in the publishing industry that marginalize women of color in particular — will come to different conclusions. Our obligation is to give this serious issue thoughtful consideration, listen carefully, consider the substance of the allegations, weigh the different things we have heard, acknowledge our own predispositions and potential biases, and make our best judgment.”

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Diaz, whose novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, was accused last month of cornering and forcibly kissing novelist Zinzi Clemmons several years ago. Other women writers, including Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and Alisa Valdes, later came forward to say they also were bullied or mistreated by the author, who lives in Cambridge and teaches at MIT.

Soon after Clemmons tweeted about the alleged incident with Diaz, MIT announced it was looking into the allegations, and the Pulitzer Prize Board, of which Diaz is chairman, announced it would conduct an independent review of the women’s accusations. The Cambridge Public Library also canceled its annual Summer Reading Kick-Off, which was to feature Diaz.

A few weeks before Clemmons made her allegation, The New Yorker published an essay by Diaz detailing sexual abuse he suffered as a young boy, and the emotional and psychological toll it had taken on his life and his relationships with women. Diaz referenced the essay in his response to Clemmons and other women, writing: “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.”

In its statement, Boston Review said it doesn’t condone the behavior described by Diaz’s accusers, but “the objectionable conduct described in the public reports does not have the kind of severity that animated the #MeToo movement.” And when Boston Review contacted women with whom Diaz has worked, “what we heard about Junot ... was consistent with our experience of him in his role as editor. We heard about a supportive editor and mentor who had opened doors for people. During his tenure as fiction editor, we have published more than 100 emerging writers, more than two thirds women, and many of them women of color and queer writers.

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“To be very clear: these observations are not offered in the spirit of some kind of cost-benefit analysis, as if great editorial contributions would compensate for an abuse of power,” Chasman said in the statement. “Instead, as we have said, we do not see a pattern of such abuse.”

Diaz’s supporters have asserted there’s been a rush to judgment. In a letter published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, two dozen professors from around the country criticized the press and individuals on social media for their “(at times uncritical) reception and repetition of the charges,” charging that it amounted to a “full-blown media-harassment campaign” that led to “the characterization of [Diaz] as a bizarre person, a sexual predator, a virulent misogynist, an abuser, and an aggressor.”