Unlocking the Junot Diaz Puzzle

SEVENTH IN A SERIES

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Abuser or non-abuser? Who, in the end, is telling the truth about this puzzling lit-world affair? Is there or will there ever be a way to tell?

THE CASE against famed author Junot Diaz is fairly well presented here, where you’ll find the statements– the charges, if you will– against him.

THE STORY is in the descriptions of these encounters– the crux of the matter in this passage taken from Monica Byrne’s narrative:

The table struck up a light conversation about the significance of statistics in publishing. I made a point emphasizing how personal narrative is important in empowering the marginalized. He said (and this is my memory, so I’m not including quotation marks), Well, I don’t know if you know how statistics work, but that’s like saying, Oh, I haven’t been RAPED, so RAPE must not exist.

Monica Byrne mentions the importance of personal narrative. Junot Diaz disagrees with her. Ironically, the accusations against him are three examples of personal narrative and the question is to what extent we should trust them.

Three intense narratives. Three brief encounters with Junot Diaz which occurred four-to-seven years ago. Are the narratives strictly accurate?

The three women were aspiring young writers meeting one of their idols. Could anyone in that situation not treat it as an important encounter?  Would (just asking) the impact of any dismissive or abrupt gesture, a raising of his voice– any formidable disagreement from him– be multiplied several times over?

One of the encounters has already been unlocked. Read the Carmen Maria Machado description– of her encounter with Diaz– linked to above. Then listen to the recorded audio of the same event (their exchange begins at the 33 minute mark):

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Oc-g4-jx-jlCQG_cuWsJa3IFrET1-3uV/view

A window into history. A disputed event six years ago is history.

A PARALLEL?

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When I was a kid my dad kept around the house a collection of boxing magazines. He wasn’t much of a reader– never read a book in his life– but he’d boxed a little in his youth and did like boxing magazines. One of the mags detailed the changes in perception wrought by film archivist Jim Jacobs, who restored footage of many of the classic fights of the late 19th century and beyond, including the Jim Corbett versus Bob Fitzsimmons heavyweight contest of 1897.

BY the 1960’s and 70’s, when these magazines were published, the old-time fights had gained the gravity of myth, due to hyperbolic descriptions in publications like The Police Gazette— which after all needed to sell copies and had to have something exciting to present.

In print, these were terribly contentious, blood-drenched battles. When grizzled boxing writers who’d been raised on the legends saw the long-lost footage, their jaws dropped. Cigars fell from their mouths. Action on the screen was minimal. Being no-limit fights in the hot sun, the boxers paced themselves. The men were merely human beings, not superheroes. (Fitzsimmons knocked-out Corbett in the thirteenth round.)

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DRAMATIC LANGUAGE

The reporters in 1897 used dramatic language which colored their descriptions, adding intensity to the event. “Fitzsimmons face was pouring blood–“ Pouring? He had a cut.

Does Machado, a creative writer, color her description?

–he became freshly enraged when I refused to capitulate . . . all (“all”) I got was a blast of misogynist rage and public humiliation– 

IS this in the audio?

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IN THE DESCRIPTION of her encounter with Junot Diaz, author Monica Byrne– who I covered in this blog’s previous two posts– writes with similar intensity.

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

Understandable, if Junot Diaz was indeed shouting at her. The question– was he?

UNLOCKING HISTORY

The past gives us innumerable examples of historical events or periods which have been colored in some way– intensified, romanticized, or toned-down– overstated or understated– by later narratives.

A ready example from the world of letters would be Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind. Mitchell was raised on descriptions of antebellum times in the Old South. She learned the romance of those days, not the horrors.

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THE FLIPSIDE to this is today’s accepted narrative about the 1950’s. Perhaps due to Eisenhower’s low-key presidency (Gore Vidal: “The Great Golfer”), and that it preceded the tumultuous 60’s, it’s considered a bland decade.

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Part of this perception was intentionally created by the polemicists of cultural rebellion. They needed a punching bag to knock around. In truth, in the aftermath of the nightmare of the Second World War, America embraced its traditions of country, home, church, and family. Much of the decade was indeed conformist– though hardly as machine-conformist as now.

YET when vintage 50’s cars parade on avenues in display in summer “dream cruises”– a tradition in the Detroit area– perception changes. One can only remark, “Wow!” at the colors and outrageousness on display.

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Another example is the sumptuous wide-screen Technicolor movies of the era. No restrained tones or muted emotions in that era. Actors declaimed, music scores blasted and garish color bled from the screen.

DEMETRIUS-AND-THE-GLADIATORS_

ABUSIVE LANGUAGE

HOW do we classify speech as abusive? Where are the lines drawn? Who draws them?

Should we begin regulating not only what a writer says, but how he says it?

Fortunate for Junot Diaz that he publicly speaks in the low-key tones of an academic. He has circulated long enough in the homogenized land of the gentry, and seems to know their codes.

But what of those whose voices are naturally loud and aggressive? Whose personas in public performance and discussion go beyond the acceptable bounds? Can this be allowed?

Questions, questions. Never-ending questions. . . .

-Karl Wenclas

 

Monica Byrne: Who’dda Thunk It?

FIFTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

AS ANYONE following the Junot Diaz/Boston Review controversy knows, sci-fi author Monica Byrne has been one of his main accusers– describing on her Facebook page his alleged bullying of her at a literary event, while also citing McCarthy-style a list of 38 unnamed names with similar accusations. (“I hold in my hand. . . .”)

Anyone reading her description of what happened had to be immediately sympathetic. It’s only that Diaz defenders have aggressively looked into the matter that another side of Ms. Byrne is emerging.

Namely, that making unsupported allegations seems to be her stock-in-trade.
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HERE’s a photo of Monica Byrne taken from her blog, Branding While Female, dated November 4, 2015:

Monica Byrne photo-on-8-25-15-at-10-05-pm

The caption accompanying the photo reads, “That time I trolled Donald Trump with a bloody middle finger.”
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NOT TOTALLY SURPRISING then that in June 2017 she was the source of unverified rumors that Melania Trump was having an affair with the head of security at the Trump Tower lobby. You might remember the story– it ran in quite a number of media outlets, including these:

http://perezhilton.com/2017-06-02-melania-trump-donald-affair-head-security-tiffanys-tower-years-monica-byrne-report

https://www.someecards.com/news/politics/melania-trump-cheating-rumors/

https://www.lovebscott.com/oh-really-melania-trump-reportedly-affair-head-security-tiffany-co-trump-tower-lobby-years

https://www.inquisitr.com/4271083/melania-trump-affair-rumor-first-lady-mocked-on-twitter-over-alleged-cheating/

https://us.blastingnews.com/news/2017/06/man-melania-trump-is-allegedly-cheating-with-has-photo-shared-on-social-media-001749225.html

BUT AFTER ALL, it was only Donald Trump, right? Everybody hates the guy. No blowback to speak of against Monica.

Apparently emboldened, Monica Byrne this year joined the chorus of accusers against Junot Diaz. Did she, as some claim, smell the opportunity for easy publicity?

AT THE MOMENT things don’t look good for the anti-Junot Diaz side. (Carmen Maria Machado already fairly well discredited.) We’ll have to see how this finally plays out.

(p.s. I’ve taken a lot of heat from Junot defenders for not immediately disbelieving the accusations against him. As I said in the second of the posts about this issue, I was not about to rush to judgement either way.)

STAY TUNED!

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit News beat.

The Cult of Junot Diaz

FOURTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ-BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

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RARE INDEED is it for a writer in  this day and age to create an obsessive fan base– but by all appearances Junot Diaz has done it, as I’m discovering while covering the ongoing controversy over whether he should or should not resign as Boston Review‘s fiction editor. His defenders guard twitter night and day, obsessively noting every hashtag related to the issue and commenting instantaneously. As someone who worries about the health of literature in this country, this is good to see.

THE QUESTION I’ve raised is to what extent the Junot Diaz persona matches the actual person beneath?

It’s unquestionable that he’s an intelligent person– by all indications a fairly complex one. It’d be naive to think he’s not to some extent in his public appearances playing to the needs of his audience. Would this be unusual? Not at all– not even in the pristine land of today’s literary scene, which some want to believe is all sunshine and cotton candy.

(Does anyone truly believe that the public good-guy persona of author-publisher Dave Eggers, for instance, is the actual person? Is anyone that naive?)

THERE’S ALSO the question implied by Carmen Maria Machado in her infamous recorded exchange with Junot Diaz. Namely, to what extent does the character Yunior in his book of stories match himself? A little? A lot? Does Diaz’s actual life match in any way the incidents described in the book? Is Junior in any way an aspect of Junot Diaz’s own personality?

These are questions which his defenders believe aren’t supposed to be asked about him– even though they’ve been asked about nearly every famous author who’s ever existed. (Did Hemingway’s characters resemble himself? Scott Fitzgerald’s? Naw! No way!)

ANOTHER PROBLEM the Cult of Junot has is with anyone who thinks his revelatory memoir in The New Yorker magazine was a mistake. Significantly, most who think it wasn’t are women. But I bring to the question the perspective of a man, taking the stance of the aforementioned Hemingway in regard to a confessional memoir called “The Crack-Up” penned by the aforementioned F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway felt the publication of such material was a mistake; that it was better dealt with obliquely in a novel. Ernest Hemingway followed a stoic code forgotten or dismissed in this day and age.

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The New Yorker wants its male writers to reveal– if not revel in– their vulnerability. For example we need go only as far as one of the stories in their current fiction issue, “Fungus” by David Gilbert, which has the weepy male lead character searching at the end of the overwritten tale for a “pregnant tree.”

(We’re doing a feature on “Hamlet” at our main site in a day or two. I’m reminded of one of that character’s lines: “–wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.”)

WHAT’S HAPPENING

VULNERABILITY. That word is the secret for Junot Diaz’s fanatical defenders and opponents, not a one who’s able to view the recent accusations against him dispassionately. They’re emotionally invested in the guy– likely because he exudes a sense of vulnerability. Women are attracted to this quality in a public personality– as could be proven by a long list of movie stars and pop music idols.

Are Junot Diaz’s accusers in fact (has been charged by his fanatic defenders) themselves frustrated fans? Ex-members of the Cult of Junot Diaz? (One anyway had an affair with him.)

There’s some logic to the idea. And as I said, if people are getting worked up over a writer, pro or con, that’s good to see. (David Gilbert no doubt wistfully wishes he could create that level of hysteria. . . .)

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MORE TO COME?

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit news beat.

Junot Diaz and Abuses of Power

 

Junot Diaz

YOU MAY today have heard about the literary journal Boston Review and its decision to keep award-winning author Junot Diaz in place as their fiction editor. You may also know that Boston Review’s three poetry editors (count ’em: three) have resigned in protest to their decision.

MOST INTERESTING to me is this part of the Boston Review statement, penned by editors Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen:

–we considered whether, as some have suggested, the complaints point to a larger pattern of abusing power—the kind of star power that has attached to Junot as a successful writer, editor, and public intellectual. On the basis of a careful review of the public complaints, we think not.

Interesting, because if you read the statements of Zinzi Clemmons, Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and others, you see that the star mindset in arrogance and attitude is a major part of the writers’ complaints.

POWER and its abuses is what occurs in a system where the writer plays the role of continual supplicant; facing the arrogance of power through every step of the process, be it writing workshops, MFA programs, the many seminars and conferences– all with steep price tags– onto dealings with the layers of agents and “Big Five” conglomerate editors themselves, who regard themselves, and not the writers– the artists whose work should stand at the center of the literary machine– as chief value.

The current writer industry is a kind of Ponzi scheme, in which writers with little-to-no chance of real success pay and pay, conforming to the standards of the literary industry (flawed standards, we believe)– while the rewards go to a chosen connected few at the top of the heap. Which wouldn’t be all bad, if the work rewarded fully justified this. It doesn’t.

Junot Diaz

It’s a system largely built on networking and connections– on being from the right background or school or writing program, having the right pedigree, correct credentials and proper sponsors.

A system– a machine– built from top to bottom to create arrogance and abuse.

New Pop Lit was created to be an alternative, artistically and in every other way.

We remind ourselves every day it’s about the reader and the writer.

-K.W.

 

Publishing Industry Feeding Frenzy

scbwiconference

THE LATEST big news in publishing are the charges of sexual harassment taking place at writers conferences put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This must-read post at School Library Journal is revealing on several levels– particularly if you read the comments, of which there are many. It reminds me of a fish tank in which the fish have begun feeding on themselves.

There are as many dramatic moments within the comments, in fact, as in a novel. One is when author and diversity advocate Tristina Wright is herself accused of harassment. Another is when the son of SCBWI‘s founder Lin Oliver jumps in to defend his mother against charges of inaction.

Tristina

(Tristina Wright.)
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Before making any kind of judgement about this matter, one should understand what writers conferences are about. Aside from making money off wannabe authors, they’re about networking, schmoozing, and socializing– often accompanied afterward by ample amounts of booze. Introvert writers away from home, brushing up against– and no doubt lavishly complimenting– well-known writers. Stuff will happen.

alexieatweinsteinbooksparty

(Well-known author Sherman Alexie, one of the accused, at a Weinstein Books party.)
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The situation with SCBWI is especially pronounced. According to photos, women outnumber men at their conferences ten-to-one. Put a wandering male in that situation– especially one with a too-healthy ego– and he’s going to feel like a kid in a candy store. An environment designed for a stray predator.

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(Photo from recent SCBWI conference.)
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Might the problem be with the conferences themselves? Beyond this, with the way the entire industry is set up, putting writers– the talent– in a position of marked inferiority?Making them face from Day One a series of barriers to leap over and hoops to jump through: instructors, agents, editors, publishers; each one holding the carrot, the desired book contract, at arm’s length. Does anyone believe that with this situation, a ton of machinations, ass-kissing, and real abuse would not take place, human nature being what it is?

There has to be a better way. At New Pop Lit, we’re devoted to finding and constructing that better way.

The Circle: Time’s Up?

OR, IS THIS SOMETHING HOLLYWOOD SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT?

The_Circle_(2017_film)

DID successful male author Dave Eggers crib the work of female writer Kate Losse for his novel The Circle, which became this past year a mainstream Hollywood movie? It’s a question that was asked by Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker in 2013, in this article.

Eggers reacted by stating that he’d done no research for his book, period. The entire thing, details and plot included, popped full-blown into his head one afternoon. Similarities to Kate Losse’s book pure coincidence.

While Losse’s case might’ve been a bit of a stretch– at least, there wasn’t enough for a lawsuit– the case is indicative of the power mentality of well-placed men which is now under widespread assault. Eggers stone-walled, denying everything. He in effect said, “Go ahead. Make my day.” Daring the relatively powerless Losse to take him on.

In full disclosure, I clashed with Mr. Eggers myself in the early part of last decade, on a number of points. I know his ability to shut down, to put out of business, any journalist or writer who opposes him. A couple individuals who butt heads with him soon became virtual nonpersons, never to be heard from again.

Image is important to Dave Eggers. Given his carefully-manufactured good-guy persona, it’s everything. Yet he’s never hesitated in the past to appropriate from any and every available avenue in the pursuit of that image. One example was his accepting a “Firecracker” Alternative Book Award in 2001 for Best Zine, for the well-staffed-and-funded slick publication McSweeney’s. (One of the matters I and DIY friends disagreed with him on. There was nothing alternative about McSweeney’s or Eggers, and never has been.) I could mention other instances.

What’s the bottom line? Is it the corruption of power? Is it that the ruthless kind of personality which enables men or women to achieve great things also makes them unable to pull back from that steamroller mindset? Is it a question of entitlement– which many writers admittedly have? That the entire world and all its peoples exist as material for them?

-K.W.