I Tried to Warn You About Junot Diaz

JunotDiaz

An old colleague from the Boston Globe sent me a link to today’s article about the flurry of women coming forward about (alleged, I guess) sexual misconduct towards them by Pulitzer-winning novelist Junot Diaz. My friend sent the article out of kindness, the way an old pal might place a comforting hand on your shoulder by way of saying, “I believe you. I always did.”

Author Zinzi Clemmons sparked today’s uproar across social media when she tweeted about Diaz cornering her and forcibly kissing her when she was a graduate student of just 26. After she tweeted this, two other female writers, Carmen Maria Machado and Monica Byrne, both came forward with similar tales of misogynistic abuse at the hands of Diaz. I wasn’t surprised. But anyone who has followed my own literary career knows that.

I publicly said Diaz was a misogynist opportunistic liar more than ten years ago, after he mistreated me, and I was severely punished for it – by Diaz, and by the publishing and Latino communities.

More than a decade ago, after I had become a NY Times and USA Today bestselling novelist and Diaz won the Pulitzer, I wrote on my own blog about the painful experience I had with him when I was in my 20s. He reacted badly to that post, calling me a bitch, denying my account, and badmouthing me to many people in NY publishing. The Latino power establishment was quick to slap me down. Who did I think I was? How dare I say anything bad about saintly Diaz, our Latino literary hero! Clearly I was just trying to drum up press for myself, right?

He blocked me and to this day never returns a single email from me – even the ones where I tried to make peace with him for the sake of the Latino writing world, which is woefully small and very chatty. He refused. And if this had been a divorce, he got all the friends – including most of NY publishing, many of my readers, and much of the Latino power establishment.

My experience with Diaz was this.

I was a young reporter at the Boston Globe when his short story collection DROWN came out. I read it and was floored. I interviewed him in Boston on his book tour. I was starstruck and excited to meet him, took him to a Dominican restaurant in the barrio, because I loved that place and thought he’d appreciate it. He wrinkled his nose at it, and said he thought the Globe could afford to take him somewhere nicer. “I’m staying at the Park Plaza,” he said, as though to say “Don’t you know who I am?”

This reaction was in direct contrast to the man-of-the-people I thought he’d be from his writing, and told me he was actually more of a social striver who pretended to be about the ‘hood, for the street cred he’d need to become a Latino lapdog for the New Yorker. It is an assessment I stand by to this day.

Still, I thought he was a great writer.

I apologized for taking him to the mom and pop restaurant in Jamaica Plain. He said it was okay, and then leaned towards me and asked me to tell him about me. I told him I wanted to be a novelist and short story writer. I told him I wanted to move from journalism to books. He suggested he finish the interview at my apartment after his reading and signing, so he could look at my manuscript and give me feedback. I said okay.

Junot came over that night. I had the book out – it was the first 100 or so pages of what would later become THE DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB, called MERENGUE back then. Diaz sat too close to me on my couch. I remember being super uncomfortable, crossing my arms defensively, and him moving them, opening them, and his staring at my chest.

“Why are you doing that, you’re so lovely,” he said.

We were more or less the same age, and he wasn’t my teacher, but there was still a strange power dynamic. He was the NY literary writer, the darling of the New Yorker. I was a rising star in literary nonfiction, longing to enter his world. He told me, sincerely I thought, that he loved my writing, that no one was writing with my voice and it was much needed. He said he’d do what he could to help me get it to the right people when it was finished.

And then, he said I should have sex with him.

And I did.

Because I thought we were soul mates. Two bright rising star Latino writers. Similar politics. Similar styles. I told him this. He said he agreed. It was a lie.

I visited Diaz a couple of times after that, taking the train down to New York, thinking I had found a kindred spirit. But he quickly became misogynistic, demeaning and cruel. He also had a girlfriend he had never told me about and, once he did tell me, said wasn’t a big deal because he cheated on her all the time and she put up with it.

Side note, added May 6, 2018: The Washington Post and several other folks have grossly (intentionally?) misinterpreted what you just read, so I answered with a new post here: Clarification: I Did Not Fuck Junot to “Get Ahead” You Fucking Idiots. You’re welcome.

Once, Diaz even asked me to clean his disgusting kitchen before I left back to Boston, telling me his severe depression made it hard for him to pick up after himself.

There were literally hundreds of empty iced tea bottles on the counters and the floors. He had just told me about the girlfriend, and thought I would still want to clean his kitchen. When I asked him about this, he laughed and called out from his futon on the floor in his bedroom: “Sweetie, you can take the man out of the D.R., but you can’t take the Dominican out of the man.”

I left without touching his filthy kitchen, and never returned.

It was painful and upsetting. I had admired him, and thought he cared about me, but he was just using me for … I don’t know what for, honestly. Just using me. He had no intention of ever introducing me to anyone in publishing, and he never did.

I managed to write that novel on my own, and get it sold, after a five-publisher bidding war. It debuted on the NY Times bestseller list, and many people reached out to congratulate me. Diaz was never one of them.

When Diaz won the Pulitzer a few years later, I wrote to congratulate him.

He emailed back, saying I seemed to be doing well in my own right, that “lots of girls in my classes like your books.”

Girls.

Girls like my books. Girls in his classes like my books. Not the guys, of course, because he’d never, you know, tell anyone about my books. Just girls read me.

But the world – the WORLD – likes his books.

Of course.

I was pissed.

I was pissed that the New York literary establishment coddled this vindictive, woman-hating machista writer, allowed him a high profile, sanctimonious podium from which to present himself to the world as some sort of grand liberal with a bleeding heart for injustice, a profound voice we should all listen to.

I was also pissed off that the Pulitzer committee rewarded Diaz with a prize for a book that, in many ways, wasn’t that different from my own debut novel.

I was pissed because I knew the same committee would never even consider a “chica lit” book for the prize, no matter how well written, because my writing did not adhere enough to the “downtrodden immigrant” paradigm so beloved by white liberals. I wondered whether Diaz, with his ponderous headshots and highbrow writeups, had ever been told by another literary writer, as I was, that I, Alisa, was “everything that’s wrong with publishing today,” even though that writer had never read a single word I’d written. “How do you know I’m what’s wrong with publishing if you haven’t read me?” I asked. He scoffed. “I don’t have to. Look at the titles and the covers. Garbage.”

So that’s what I was. Though I had been nominated for the Pulitzer in features as a newspaper writer, as a novelist, in Diaz’s world, I had now somehow been downgraded to someone who clearly wrote garbage, for girls.

I was pissed, because I had known I wanted to be a writer when I was nine years old, and I did not pick my book covers.

I was named the nation’s top magazine essayist at age 28. My former agent, who had also been the head of the Collins division of HarperCollins, once told me I was the fastest writer he’d ever met; I could write an entire book in six days, and it was good. My first essay ever published was in an anthology that included Curtis Sittenfeld and Rebecca Walker; several reviews had said mine was the best of the bunch – but that was before candy colored stripes on my book jackets, and racy, albeit ironic, titles. I wasn’t a hack. I was a real writer. Period.

I was pissed, because none of my literary talent or accomplishments mattered to a literary community that shrugged off women, mocked commercial writers and ignored POC who did not write only about oppression – all of this, without ever reading them, yet celebrated sexist, lying creeps like Diaz.

Yes, I was angry.

Angry that Diaz had seen my talent but been threatened by it and used my hunger for kindred spirits to coerce me into fucking him; angry that the male-dominated, “literary” publishing world had no problem embracing his street-wise Latina characters, who sounded a lot like mine, but dismissed me without ever even reading a fucking word I wrote, because vagina, because pretty covers, because racy sexy titles, because Latinas who did NOT live in the fucking barrio.

My Latinas were ballsy, funny, sarcastic, independent, professionals – the kinds of women Diaz likes to take down, the kinds of women guilty white liberals think are “selling out” because they’re just enjoying their lives (“like white people,” apparently, tsk tsk) and not constantly being downtrodden; you know, PEOPLE, regular-ass people. Diaz’s Latinos were smart, but their smarts were always in bas-relief against the acceptable (even laudable) stereotypical miseries of immigration and the ghetto (where we belong, don’t ya know) with a sort of “golly gee, honey, who knew a barrio kid could be a well-read nerd – fascinating!” In my world, everyone knows that already; none of us are amused or surprised.

I wrote a blog post back then, saying the only difference between me and Diaz, as writers, was that he fit the (comforting?) white liberal stereotype of Latino other-ness and misery, and I didn’t.

I dared to say I was every bit as good a writer as he was (because I fucking am) but that because he was a guy and his ironic-barrio-brilliance books were “literary,” and I was a woman and my comedic friendship books were “commercial,” that he was welcome to dine (‘sup?) at the NY literary elite table and I…wasn’t wasn’t even invited to bus the tables.

Diaz didn’t like that post. He was deeply offended and angered, and needed to put me in my place.

Finally, Diaz wrote back. And it wasn’t nice. He said I was arrogant. He wasn’t the only one. Many Latinos who loved him, his readers, wrote to me to tell me I was a horrible person for bringing down “one of our own.” They wanted me to sit down and shut up, to stop making waves, to leave him alone, to stop being tan “envidiosa,” to not bring a brother down. So what that he treated me like shit. That was irrelevant. I was irrelevant.

Diaz promised to ruin me. And maybe he did.

Things got hard, then. The feedback was so terrible that I deleted my Twitter account and blog. I had 11,000 twitter followers then. It would be years before I had the guts to get back on Twitter at all.

Things were hard. Harder than they should have been. People posted about how “crazy” I was. Truly vile and abusive shit. I had become a writer in part because I am an introvert. I never wanted the attention to be on me as a person, only on my writing. But there I was, being dragged through the mud. I was named one of the 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America by Time magazine because of my books, but still could never get a call back from the New Yorker, or the NY Times, when I pitched poems or stories or op-eds. Maybe it was Diaz. Or maybe it was something else. My vagina. My book covers. My lack of an MFA. My honesty. My unwillingness to write in a way that made white liberals feel sorry for me while admiring me.

Maybe it was me. I used to think it was me, because that’s what happens. I blamed myself. I took down that post. I apologized to Diaz. I begged him to be my friend again.

He ignored me, punishing.

Thank you, Zinzi, Carmen, Monica, for giving me the courage to know it wasn’t just me. Or me at all. It was him.

Me too, chicas.

Goddamn.

Me too.

(Note: here’s a followup post I wrote about this: ON CLOSED SKIN AND BROKEN GLASS.)

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126 thoughts on “I Tried to Warn You About Junot Diaz

  1. Pingback: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz accused of sexual misconduct, misogynistic behavior – Affiliate Hub

  2. Pingback: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz accused of sexual misconduct, misogynistic behavior – libellus

  3. Pingback: Junot Diaz withdraws from writers' festival amid allegations of sexual misconduct, misogyny - Every News

  4. Muy bien. A estos machistas frescos que pretenden sacar favores sexuales usando los sueños de una mujer, pervertidos. A ese fresco que pretende disfrazarse de cordero intelectual para abusar de su poder, asqueroso.A ese hombre que debería entender lo que es la violencia en contra de otro ser humano, puerco.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz accused of sexual misconduct, misogynistic behavior – True RED USA

  6. As a woman who has been molested as a child myself, I don’t see how this is related to sexual misconduct akin to the metoo movement. To utilize Diaz’s expos^e to somehow prove something to yourself and others minimizes mental illness and childhood sexual abuse.
    You were not coerced in any way.
    I do wish you all the best in your career.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mora for your thoughtful response. I, too am concerned that serious abusive behavior is minimized when we conflate being a mere jerk for criminl behaviour. Your relationship with Diaz was consensual and unpleasant. That is unfortunate, but not a crime.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mora, I think what you are implying is that #metoo is meant for sexual assault only, but I believe women have been using it to signify other forms of violations and harassment as well. His actions most definitely can be described as retaliatory and vicious. There has to be a way for this sort of behavior to be called out as well. I personally have no opinion as to what #metoo should be used for. I don’t know.
      It took courage for Junot Diaz to tell his story and his trauma is real. But he is both a victim and a perpetrator (male victims are more likely to become perpetrators compared to women). He is not raping children and so far there have not been any allegations of rape against him (but I would not be surprised if there were date rape accusations eventually).
      Still, J Diaz is very sick and predatory: he is narcissistic. Men who are narcissists lure women in, appearing to be “present” when in fact, they are only doing so to gain access to their prey, which they use as “narcissistic supply.” Having a “relationship” with a man like him is a mind f*ck, because they give you just enough to keep you around, but never enough to allow you to feel safe and along the way, they make sure to undermine your sense of self, because that way, they can project onto you all their own self-loathing. It is a very abusive universe that is created between two people who have likely had their won traumas – so long as both people stay. But when one tries to pull out – forget about it – the narcissist will find a way to make you pay dearly. The author did not stay in the “relationship.” She left and she has a strong and clear voice, so I will be buying her books in support.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I used to be a fan of your writing. But instead of giving this man compassion and forgiveness (do unto others), you’re using this as an outlet to basically explain that you dated someone you considered to be an a**hole. Never mind the impact, solace and hope that his words have had on childhood rape survivors, like myself. Shame on you. You’re not a Me Too – you’re pathetic.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: L’écrivain Junot Díaz mis en cause pour son comportement envers les femmes | Radio télé Tshiondo

  8. Pingback: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz accused of sexual misconduct, misogynistic behavior - mynews9.com

  9. The fact that you should never have suffered through the denigration of your work & self by those who refused to consider any criticism of Diaz is clear…The story you tell rings so very true and I must applaud your honesty and courage then and now; and that of the others who have come forward. As long as the men’s club rules so many sectors of our lives…the discrimination and abuse will continue. I call it the “price of integrity”…may we someday not suffer it. If not us then our daughters & grand-daughters.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m sorry that you experienced rude treatment from him…. As have others clearly…. But is this a reason to take his books off the shelf and demonize him? He clearly has some more work to do on himself… He went through something unspeakable as a child and still is working through it. You reference his depression here… That can cause all sorts of ‘abnormal’ behavior. I have sympathy for you. Please have at least an ounce of sympathy for the man and what he has gone through and what he STILL needs to go through to somehow become whole. And can we please not list him with the Weinsteins of the world… YET. The forcible kissing incident aside… Which sounds gross… All the other reports are of him being a total jerk verbally… That’s behavior in line with depression and unresolved trauma. So avoid the man for sure… And don’t read him if you want. But if being a jerk verbally is now a sexual crime then feel free to go to MOMA and rip half the paintings down… Some btw from women too.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly I’m a little miffed by our culture’s willingness to accept depression as an excuse for shitty behavior. There are a lot of people with depression who are not jerk-offs, who do not treat others like garbage, and who are not serially unfaithful to their partners. Depression and trauma are horrible things, and people who suffer from them can behave poorly at times, but they are not carte blanche. You still responsible for your actions even if you have a diagnosis.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed. I also have a mental illness, and not only has it never served to excuse any dumb things I’ve done in the public eye, it has also been used by my detractors to dismiss me as a person when I am NOT triggered or acting out. Also, Diaz seems to exhibit symptoms not just of depression but also of my disorder, BPD. Suicidality, reckless self destructive behavior, impulsivity, angry outbursts, inability to tolerate perceived rejection or abandonment. Many survivors of childhood sex abuse have BPD.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: Clarification – I Did Not Fuck Junot to “Get Ahead” You Fucking Idiots – tremenda manguita & other magnetisms

  12. The comments above are sad. Why do women continue to excuse such behavior? Is it that we don’t want to reveal our own wounds? To the author, I feel what you are saying and it takes a lot to even speak up on these issues. I’m sorry that people think if it wasn’t a blatant crime no harm has been done and you brought it on yourself. He used his position and arrogance, took advantage of you, misled you and that’s enough. And to me not unlike the tactics used by seemingly more criminal predators. Gosh it happens so often. Peace and health be with you.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Rose, Well said! I too was Shocked by the above reactions to the PAIN of this dear sister! my heart bleeds with compassion for her and I can totally see why she was disappointed by the actions of this man. MizValdes, sorry you went through that! I am glad you were Brave enough to share AND that others spoke up too. I believe that what is done in the dark ALWAYS come to the light! No one can hide their mess forever! I hope that you continue to write and that you are able to Rise above the pain from your past!

      Liked by 2 people

  13. The comments above ARE sad. They’re making up all kinds of arguments–that’s you’re censoring Diaz or that’s he’s just like Harvey Weinstein–that are on their face ridiculous and have nothing to do with your actual story. Thanks for writing this. I’m deeply moved by people who open themselves up to this kind of ignorant, reactionary criticism just so the world will eventually be better for others. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Pingback: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz accused of sexual misconduct, misogynistic behavior – Shawn Miller

  15. Thank you to all of the courageous women who have spoken out about men who have been respected and revered in society. People with unresolved traumatic wounds can unleash their hurt onto others. Because of the patriarchal world in which we all live, men with unresolved narcissistic wounds who step into positions of power have an unspoken privilege to hurt those in more vulnerable positions without punishment or remorse. I appreciate your outing Junot Diaz with his liberal agenda. This phenomena allows another mask, in which even the white liberal intelligentsia is complicit (I say this as someone who is white, educated and liberal). It creates a ruse, where people with unresolved hurt can hide without having to do the more challenging work, which Junot Diaz conveyed in his recent New Yorker essay to feel pain and make genuine amends for hurtful behavior. Let’s see if he can stretch himself to begin to do so in a more authentic way that requires a level of introspection that allows for shame and humility. Since these are emotions which are very challenging to feel for long stretches, it requires a great deal of support for people to not just shift into projecting blame outwards onto others. There is a need for a correction and your speaking out about your experience is I hope the beginning of more dialogue about this matter and the supports we need to begin to cultivate in society, so that hurt individuals in positions of hierarchical power do not create more trauma.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Yeah ~~ seriously fuck those awful un-sympathetic comments above Fuckkkkkk defending predatory misogynists and excusing their behavior with “oh! they were traumatized too” while NEVER extending that same care and defense to the femmes they abuse and traumatize. Coercion is never okay, and I’m sending you so much love and healing and hoping folks are really showing up to protect & hold space w/for u 🌷

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  17. Alisa! I don’t know why people had such a hard time believing you. Nothing you said sounds so outlandish. What concerns me is that you let it get to you that as you said, ” the same committee would never even consider a “chica lit” book for the prize.” Those committees are only given importance, because we give it to them. At the end of the day they’re just little clubs made by grown ups. Let’s make our own committee and award chick lit! I consider myself a very critical person, I’m frequently disappointed by writing and get a lot of backlash from the men in my life for putting down what they think are masterpieces for flaws in the writing but I absolutely loved the Dirty Girls Social Club when I read it. I loved your books and never even gave a second thought to Diaz. I wish the opinions of women like me or the “girls in his class” was more valuable to you than the ones of the committee. And I do like some writers that would be put in the same category as Diaz, so it’s not that I’m not into that genre. It just didn’t resonate with me.

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    • 💜💜💜💜 I love this comment. And of COURSE your opinion matters to me. Of COURSE the opinions of the women in his class matter to me. Sadly, they don’t matter much to publishing unless book sales get their attention. While Dirty Girls sold well, none of my other books have done as well. Declining sales mean declining marketing from the publisher and it is an avalanche of failure from there. Coupled with the gossip machine in NY publishing after I dared to call out Diaz, these things worked to render me untouchable to publishing. Or at least my longtime publisher. I can’t even get a call back or an email returned from my editor there, a woman who once called me a genius and held a party for me at her gorgeous NY apartment. I can’t sell a book to a publisher now. So I’ve opened a bakery. I can’t waste my life being upset.

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  18. Pingback: Junot Díaz and The Myth of Male Genius – Current Affairs | Culture & Politics

  19. Alisa, I just read this and the other two related blogs.
    I know all of this bullshit so well, though on a much smaller scale and in a much smaller country.
    The responses here, the silencing, all you have described going through merely for speaking your truth and standing up for yourself … all of this I have experienced as a wannabe writer.
    As a young poet, I experienced some really terrible harassment (which I have blogged about in two #MeToo posts). But even saying these things makes a woman an object of hatred.
    I have had a chronic illness and resultant disability and as a result, life can often be a struggle. Writing was my way of being in the world. BUT … There have been long periods where I didn’t write because I just couldn’t stand the ‘scene’, the need for ‘networking’, and the endless sexism and minimisation of female talent. I couldn’t stand much older -and often partnered – writers hitting on me. I was sick of being sexualised when all I wanted to do was read my poem. Even my walking stick was seen as a prop, an affectation. Now, in middle age, after a decade away, I am writing again. But it’s taken four years since buying my domain name to do so, as I just don’t have the stomach for the trolling and abuse I see other women writers copping so endlessly, and I confess, I was afraid to put myself in the firing line again.
    Thankyou for writing this. Know that you are heard and believed.
    I will be following you and tracking down your books.
    And I will continue to wonder, in the words of Jessica Valenti, “Who would I be if I lived in a world that didn’t hate women?”
    Liz HD, with affection.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: Junot Díaz was an awful man. Who is he now? - Back To The Center

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  23. While I applaud your courage and honesty to speak out about your experience, void of my own personal emotion, I can’t help the numerous questions and concerns that run through my mind while reading your account. While we’ve all been young and naive, it was indeed a red flag of Diaz’s presumed arrogance when he expressed his displeasure at the restaurant you took him to. But when he asked to go to your apartment, why didn’t you take control of the situation and told him no?. You could have offered to email your manuscript to him, you could have offered to discuss it during lunch, you could have not allowed this man to come to your private dwelling. And then he comes at night? Did that not make you uncomfortable? Then he moves your arms, stares at your chest asks to have sex with you, and you did???? What’s the issue here?. Whether Diaz is a jerk or not, there wasn’t any forced behavior per your own account. I am sorry if you engaged in something you may regret now, but he did not rape you, drug you, but asked you – and you complied. Lines further get blurred by the fact that after such a seemingly unpleasant experience with such an unpleasant person, you went out of your way to “take the train down to NY and visited him a few times after that???” You can’t not expect anyone to lose credibility with your story when you seem by your actions to further engage with him.
    The fact that he was allegedly, “misogynistic, demeaning and cruel” the fact that he “had a girlfriend” or a dirty kitchen was all irrelevant. Sometimes people who produce “great work” aren’t great people. Alot of people in this world are effed up, some people are manipulative and rude. But those same people do not owe anything to anyone let alone their kindness, It’s the way of the world that even your beloved celebrity is a real jerk, and you unfortunately got a taste of that.
    The way you go on about how you should have won this or that makes your sound entitled and emotional. But I don’t believe that you are, I believe that you are frustrated being in a world where you believe in your work but are in the arena of those who pick their favorites when it ties into the narratives they want to hear. I am sorry you’ve experienced this professionally and personally.and I hope that your career continuances to soar, However, I do think – according to your story, more accountability should have been had, not every one is nice or moral.

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    • Stacy, I have to ask, why did you write this comment? Why did you read Alisa’s description of Diaz being an asshole and ask her why she didn’t say no? She said she had a crush on him, why was that not an answer for you? Why does this make her lose credibility in your eyes? Why didn’t her honesty render her more credible to you? Why do you feel the need to tell her he didn’t rape her when she never said he did? Why did you tell her that her speaking up about his misogyny is irrelevant? If you don’t think she’s being entitled why are you saying her writing makes her sound this way? What accountability in this story would have satisfied you?

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Pingback: Junot Díaz accused of sexual harassment and sexist behavior - The Black Youth Project

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  26. Thank you for this post, and for analyzing the hypocrisy of this misogynist with backwards approaches to women being praised and lauded by liberal media. I am working now to expose a story about another man (a serial sexual predator) who is publically outspoken about issues related to race, yet deeply exploitative of women. All I can say is, keep talking, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

    Liked by 1 person

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  28. Pingback: The #MeToo movement hit the literary world hard this week. It’s not the first time. – TV Aerials Middlesbrough

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