Unraveling the Monica Byrne Accusation

DELVING DEEPER INTO THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

Peter_Straub_BBF_2010_Shankbone(Best-selling novelist Peter Straub.)

DEFENDERS of the accusers in the Junot Diaz matter have said, “Forget her past history. What of the Monica Byrne accusation itself?”

What of it? Byrne’s date for the evening, Eugene Fischer, backs Monica’s version implicitly. Then again, he also fully backed Carmen Maria Machado’s version of her encounter with Diaz, and that’s been contradicted by the recorded audio.

Noted novelist Peter Straub was present at the Byrne-Diaz encounter, and has given his testimony on Facebook. In a tweet, Monica Byrne has referred to Straub as an “OWM.” Old White Male. Straub is old in at least one sense. While his books may be filled with irrationality, Straub is still living in a world which believes in the quaint notion of objective reality. When he said, in a twitter exchange with Monica, that there was room for different perspectives on a past event, Byrne set him straight.

In the new politicized world of arts and letters there is room for only ONE version of events– that fueled by emotion and ideology.
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A KEY PART of Monica Byrne’s statement on the event, released to the world on Facebook May 4th, this year, is this paragraph referring to Junot Diaz:

His voice had risen to a shout. He literally shouted the word “rape” in my face. This is after knowing me for maybe ten minutes. His response was completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent. I was speechless and felt sick. I would have, anyway, but this was also only two weeks after I’d been sexually assaulted in Belize.

THIS has been taken to mean by at least one Diaz defender on twitter that Byrne was suffering from a kind of PTSD, and so overreacted when he disagreed with her.

Which raises the question: What WAS Monica Byrne’s state of mind going into her April 4, 2014 encounter with Junot Diaz?

FACT IS we have a kind of recorded narrative of Monica Byrne’s outlook in the month leading up to April 4th, including her vacation in Belize. A series of snapshots– her tweets. I’ve counted 258 tweets made by Monica in the month leading up to April 4, 2014. That is, 3/4 through 4/3.

BEGIN TO READ a stream of Monica Byrne tweets and you find yourself swamped in egocentrism. Every feeling, thought, mood, whim; every review or note from her agent; every encounter on the beach on Belize; every pizza slice– sunburn, virus, cave expedition, karaoke– is displayed in that twitter stream.

What does it tell us?

Leading up to her argument with Junot Diaz, Monica Byrne was in an excessively good mood.

On vacation in Belize– who wouldn’t be happy? PLUS, her novel was about to come out. This tweet, from two days before encountering Diaz:

But what of her feelings toward men? Was she fearful or damaged?

PERHAPS the most revealing tweet about her mindset toward men in the days leading up to April 4th is this one.

BUT!? But, but what of the sexual assault in Belize– a key part of her anti-Diaz narrative? Where is that?

Perusal of the tweets reveals two possibilities. First was a young man hitting on Monica.

The other was when a boy on the beach also made a pass at her. This a little better fits her timeline of two weeks before April 4th. (Well, it’s three-and-a-half weeks.) Monica finds this encounter hilarious.

THE BEST barometer is how she felt ON THE VERY DAY that she would later meet Junot Diaz. We have evidence about that as well.

She’d been at a book signing for her new novel the evening before. If she wasn’t quite ready to arm wrestle every man in sight, her confidence, her self-esteem, was hardly lacking. Pulitzer Prize or no Pulitzer Prize, she was scarcely in a state to be intimidated by a moderately well-known author. As she was not at all intimidated by the better known author Peter Straub. Monica Byrne in fact had– and has– a substantial support system. Friends not only with award-winning science fiction writer Eugene Fischer– who was with her at the Diaz dinner– but also with some of the biggest names in the sci-fi game like John Scalzi.

BUT WHAT of the most damaging statement against Junot Diaz in her 2018 statements– that he shouted “RAPE!” at her? If not at all traumatized before going into the 2014 dinner, was she traumatized afterward?

She was perturbed, sure. Disappointed in Junot Diaz? Likely. But there’s no evidence in any of her tweets immediately after the encounter that it was a shattering experience. Also no mention– none– at that point of time of him shouting in her face the word “rape.” Her main complaint, at that time, seems to be that he was disrespectful, dismissive, arrogant.

If every well-known author be dismissed from his-or-her jobs for being arrogant, there might not be anyone left! (Not an all-bad idea, actually.)
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-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit News beat.

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The Monica Byrne Four

EXAMINING ONE THREAD OF THE JUNOT DIAZ AFFAIR

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WHY FOUR?

THERE HAVE BEEN four men in the arts and publishing worlds accused of sexual harassment by Monica Byrne. One of them is award-winning author Junot Diaz. The charges by Byrne and several others against him have gained international attention.

(For purposes of this post, not included are the unsupported allegations Monica made about Melania Trump one year ago– addressed in other New Pop Lit News blog posts.)

In an attempt to find the truth of the matter, I decided to look into the incidents of the three other men– besides Junot Diaz– who were accused.
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FIRST, let me state that one has to be skeptical of any powerful institution– such as MIT– dealing with such matters, as the first instinct of any such institution is CYA: “Cover Your Ass.” For a tragic example of this we need look no farther than Michigan State University. In matters of public opinion– not in the courts– the burden of proof may well be on the involved institution.

SECOND, I believe that in all these affairs Monica Byrne sees herself on the side of truth and justice; that she’s made these accusations in pursuit of a good cause. I don’t question that. I’m describing what happened in these instances to see if misperceptions and miscommunications were involved. (As appears to have been the case with Carmen Maria Machado and her encounter with Mr. Diaz.)
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A.)  Bora Zivkovic

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In September of 2012 Monica invited Bora Zivkovic, editor and blogger at Scientific American, for coffee to talk about her work. They met at a cafe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. According to her narrative, she discussed her visit to a strip club, among other things she’d done in pursuit of stories. Zivkovic opened up about his sex life with his wife. Monica was bothered enough by the encounter that afterward she sent him a note about it, then another. He apologized. In October Monica wrote about the incident for her blog, without naming him. A year later, October 2013, she updated the post, naming Bora Zivkovic as the man involved, and also contacting Scientific American about the incident. When two other women came forward with similar complaints, Zivkovic quickly resigned from his position at S.A. One of the other women complainants later said this:

-it may not look like sexual harassment. There was no actual sex or inappropriate touching. Bora wasn’t vulgar toward me, nor did he even directly announce his interest. It was all reading between the lines–

B.)  Raphael Martin

Raphael Martin

In 2013 Raphael Martin, then Director of New Work at Soho Repertory Theatre in New York, was visiting Durham, North Carolina. Monica Byrne had written a play she wanted Martin to read and somehow arranged to be part of a group he had dinner with in town. After dinner he invited Monica for a “late night rendezvous drink.” When they met up he may or may not have already had a drink, according to her Facebook write-up on the encounter, posted three years later on 10/25/2016.

Monica told Raphael Martin about her latest play, “Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo”– “about a polyamory cult at the Olympics.” According to Monica, “he seemed weirdly affectionate.” Despite this, she offered to drive him back to his hotel. On the way, he questioned her about whether she was polyamorous. She “tried to glide over it, saying yeah.” When they pulled up to the hotel he gave her a hug “that made my skin crawl, and sort of fondled my forearms.” Receiving no positive signal from her, he got out of the car and she drove home.

In 2016 Monica sent her blog write-up describing the encounter to a Facebook friend, who shared it and asked publicly if anyone else had also been sexually harassed by Raphael Martin. When other women described similar incidents he was quickly fired by Soho, left the job quietly and moved to London, England.

C.  Junot Diaz

junotdiaz

I still have a few questions regarding Monica Byrne’s encounter with Junot Diaz. Such as:

-Who was the date Monica mentions in her Facebook post on the incident, and why hasn’t that person come forward? *See added comment below.

-The dinner at a restaurant was after a sold-out talk Junot Diaz gave at the North Carolina Literary Festival in April, 2014. Likely everyone there would’ve liked to have been at the afterglow dinner. How did Monica and her date manage the invitation?

-Famed author Peter Straub was described as very present at the dinner, witness to all that occurred. Why has he had no comment? (Btw, I asked him for one via twitter. No response.) *See added comment below.

LIKE Zivkovic and Martin, when the accusations against him appeared Junot Diaz said all the right things, quickly withdrew from a literary festival and cancelled other public appearances. The statement issued in his name from his literary agent:

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 continueI 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.

WHAT HAS to be noted about all four of these men is that they’re all politically progressive. Their public statements have long been in support of women’s issues, and against the kind of behavior they were accused of. Which does not at all mean they weren’t themselves engaging in such behavior. All four are gregarious, touchy-feely men, “huggers,” who felt no inhibitions (until now, obviously) in engaging regularly in such contact. All appear harmless– and in these affairs, hapless. For what it’s worth, not a one is your stereotypical ultra-macho ogre. Not one made much of a protest, personally, against the charges. They meekly left their fates in the hands of others.
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BUT WAIT! Haven’t I spoken about four men accused by Monica Byrne of sexual harassment? Yes, there’s a fourth, and on the surface things don’t look good for him.

Here’s a tweet Monica recently sent out to the world, dated June 6 of this year:

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D.)  Jay O’Berski

oberski - Edited

The accused, Number Four. A theater professor at Duke.

IS there more to the story? Much more???

STAY TUNED!

-Karl Wenclas
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