On Friday morning, I saw the allegations about author Junot Díaz’s history of sexual misconduct from women writers. I found out right after reading that the Nobel Prize in literature was canceled because of a sex abuse scandal. A writer named Zinzi Clemmons publicly confronted Díaz at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about a time she says he tried to forcibly kiss her. He didn’t take her seriously.
Clemmons took her story to Twitter, where other writers, like Carmen Maria Machado, also shared stories.
I took the news emotionally. I’d met Díaz a few times, and now I questioned why he treated me respectfully. Was it because one of our mutual friends introduced us? I felt awful for the women who were forced to hide such toxic experiences because of his standing in the literary world.
So often, it seemed like he was the only Latinx writer most people outside our community heard about. For a number of Latinx writers and readers, it felt like they found out their popular tío was actually a mean machista who hurt women.
It felt personal to lose such an idol, but it was also a reminder that Díaz isn’t the only Latinx writer on my shelf. He was influential in getting me to believe I could write, that I belonged in these largely white spaces. That doesn’t mean I can’t grow up and learn to look to other writers instead.
I tweeted out a few of the titles I owned by Latina authors and listed some others I want to get to. I had just bought Cristina García’s “Dreaming in Cuban” and have had Raquel Cepeda’s “Bird of Paradise” waiting for me for years. I met Désirée Zamorano and Lilliam Rivera at a writing conference a few years back, and I had their books, “The Amado Women” and “The Education of Margot Sanchez,” respectively, on my list to read. But after the works of Sandra Cisneros, I didn’t know which titles to choose next.
More than 250 suggestions have poured in since, including titles from Latina playwrights and poets, non-binary Latinx sci-fi writers like Ava Jae and even a list of Latina romance writers. So many recommendations have poured in that I could have my to-read list spoken for the next few years. Daisy Hernandez’s “A Cup of Water Under My Bed,” Jennine Capó Crucet’s “Make Your Home Among Strangers,” Ana Castillo’s “The Mixquiahuala Letters” and Cristina Henriquez’s “The Book of Unknown Americans” made several appearances as did authors Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez and Valeria Luiselli. The recommendations and positive testimonies far outweighed the Latino men in my mentions who said what I was doing was discouraging and that I was “dividing the community” for boosting Latina writers.
I chose to focus on Latina writers because we are so underrepresented in the publishing world. That’s not to say it isn’t hard for men of color to get into these spaces, but it’s much harder for women of color to get their books picked up and to be lauded by others in literary circles. Díaz’s violence specifically targeted women of color, many of whom once looked up to him. It felt like a tangible way to support Latina writers in this moment.
The next time I travel, I’ll leave with García’s “Dreaming in Cuban” and Natalia Sylvester’s “Everyone Knows You Go Home” in my bag. The road to healing is long, and my anger at that tío’s betrayal still burns. I’m putting that aside for now, and focusing on the women writers who are out there trying to share our stories.