The Pulitzer Prize board announced Friday that it had concluded its review of sexual misconduct allegations against award-winning novelist Junot Díaz and found no reason to remove him from the board.
During the five-month inquiry, the board said, an outside law firm interviewed dozens of witnesses and analysed hundreds of documents, as well as audiotapes, according to a news release. The board said the review “did not find evidence warranting removal” of Díaz from its ranks.
In May, Díaz stepped down as chairman of the board shortly after the sexual misconduct allegations became public. The week before, writer Zinzi Clemmons accused Díaz of forcibly kissing her when she was a graduate student at Columbia University, prompting a divisive debate within the literary world over Díazs actions and whether he should be held accountable.
In a statement provided by his publicist, Nicole Aragi, responding to the Pulitzer boards decision, Díaz said he “welcomed the Pulitzers independent investigation and was heartened by its thoroughness and determination to run down every detail.”
“I am grateful the investigation found the truth,” the statement said. “I look forward to returning to the Pulitzers important work.”
Clemmons did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening about the Pulitzer Prize boards announcement. In a statement to The New York Times after her initial disclosure, Clemmons said Díaz had “made his behaviour the burden of young women — particularly women of colour — for far too long, enabled by his team and the institutions that employ him.”
Clemmons, who teaches writing at Occidental College in Los Angeles, first confronted Díaz about his alleged behaviour while he was on a panel at the Sydney Writers Festival, then described her experience to a broader audience on Twitter. She said Díaz cornered her and forcibly kissed her at a workshop about issues of representation in literature, where she had invited him to speak.
In response to her disclosure, several writers offered their support. Other women came forward with allegations against Díaz of misogyny and verbal bullying, including writer Monica Byrne, who said he once yelled “rape” in her face to prove a point.
Other academics and writers defended Díaz. In a letter published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, some criticised the medias coverage of the accusations and said the characterisation of Díaz as an “aggressive sexual predator” reinforced racist stereotypes.
The accusations against Díaz prompted initial fallout in his professional life, though institutions he was associated with have largely stood by him.
In June, Díaz was cleared of sexual misconduct at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches writing. MIT concluded its internal inquiry shortly after a decision by the Boston Review to keep Díaz as its fiction editor.
The Pulitzer Prize board said in its news release that Díaz, who joined the board in 2010, would resume his full responsibilities as a member until April, when his term was scheduled to expire.
Dana Canedy, the Pulitzer Prize administrator, said that although the law firm of Williams & Connolly conducted the review, the board itself made the decision to keep him. Canedy would not elaborate on the boards method for reaching its decision. (Although Díaz stepped down as chairman, he remained a member of the board and voluntarily recused himself from the independent review process, the news release said.)
The boards most high-profile duty is presiding over the judging process by which Pulitzer Prizes — presented by Columbia University — are awarded to the years best works of reporting, photography, fiction, history, poetry, music and drama.
Díaz has been lauded as an inventive novelist who broke boundaries with “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which won the Pulitzer in 2008. Born in the Dominican Republican and raised in New Jersey, Díaz went on to receive a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2012.
The controversy first broke into public view after Díaz published an essay in The New Yorker about how he had been raped as an 8-year-old, leading to emotional trauma that affected his relationships with women. Some praised the article, while others said they thought it was an attempt to pre-empt allegations against him at a time when there was a steady stream of #MeToo stories involving high-profile individuals.