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Diaz withdraws from Australian tour after sexual harassment allegations

Author Junot Diaz has withdrawn from his scheduled appearances at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF) and the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, after being accused of past sexual misconduct and verbal abuse.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist was confronted by US author Zinzi Clemmons during the Q&A section of his Friday panel at SWF. Clemmons, who is also a guest at the festival, asked Diaz about his recent New Yorker essay, in which he detailed his childhood sexual assault, before questioning Diaz’s alleged misconduct while she was graduate student at Columbia.

Following the panel, Clemmons published her allegations on Twitter, alleging that the writer had forcibly kissed her after she had invited him to speak to a workshop at the university.

‘I’m far from the only one he’s done this [to],’ wrote Clemmons. ‘I told several people this story at the time, I have emails he sent me afterward,’ she added.

Fellow SWF guest Carmen Maria Machado and US writer Monica Byrne also came forward on Twitter and Facebook, respectively, to detail encounters with Diaz, where he was allegedly verbally aggressive.

In a statement confirming Diaz’s withdrawal from the festival, SWF organisers said, ‘In his recent New Yorker essay, Mr Diaz wrote, “Eventually the past finds you”. As for so many in positions of power, the moment to reckon with the consequences of past behavior has arrived.’

The statement continued, ‘Sydney Writers’ Festival is a platform for the sharing of powerful stories: urgent, necessary and sometimes difficult. Such conversations have never been more timely. We remain committed to ensuring they occur in a supportive and safe environment for authors and audiences alike.’

Diaz said he will ‘take responsibility’ for his past behaviour in a statement released via his agent to the New York Times, but did not address the women’s allegations directly.

‘I take responsibility for my past,’ he said. ‘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.’

The Wheeler Centre also cancelled its 7 May session with Diaz, stating on the event’s webpage, ‘We always take seriously our responsibility to ensure that our platform and our spaces are safe for our guests and audiences alike’.

‘The Wheeler Centre is inspired by the bravery of those sharing their stories and is committed to an accountable and responsive literary community for everyone.’

 

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