How to Write a Hatchet Job

PRELUDE TO EXAMINING SLATE’S JUNOT DIAZ ARTICLE

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THE TRUTH is that a character assassination can be written on anyone– especially when you delve into the person’s long history of writings and cherry pick from them to bolster your argument.

Did Slate‘s Lili Loofbourow do this in her examination of the Junot Diaz sexual harassment controversy now dividing the literary world?

THE TRICK is that the same treatment could be performed on Ms. Loofbourow. For instance, two minutes of google searching found this article:

“In Praise of Fleabag and the Unapologetically Flawed Female Antihero.”

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The television show Loofbourow acclaims is, in her own words, “–a tremendous, oddly nourishing show about a liar and thief.” “It’s the story . . . of a woman who reads people too well and takes advantage of them,” “somehow desperate,” “a lean, amoral Matilda with no impulse control.”

(Anyone we know. . . ?)

Reading the article, one would think Lili Loofbourow doesn’t care, really, about apologies– nor about ethical behavior and truth. One could readily believe that Lili Loofbourow is simply a media gun-for-hire, fixing her opinions to fit the needs of her editors– or those of the greater conglomerate media herd.

That would be unfair.

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THE SLATE article is interesting to me, because it reminds me of a long essay that was written fifteen years ago for a major literary publication, about an activist writers group. A writers group coincidentally devoted to exposing blatant corruption in the established literary world. That long-ago essay was a well-written hatchet job, filled with half-truths, distortions, and omissions. It defined us, creating a narrative which became “the truth” about us in everyone’s heads, so much so that any journalist afterward covering the organization read that essay as part of their research on it, viewing it through the same prism of misconceptions.
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I’m not complaining. I’m stating how the game is played. Those who rise to a position where they crank out articles for a variety of publications play the game very, very well.

The solution? To create an alternative literary world, and alternative lit-media, not based in the shark tank of New York– one devoted to facts, talent, and truth.

COMING SOON: A more direct look at the Slate article.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News.

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

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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

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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

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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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