Sexual Harassment in the Young Adult Literature Community
February 23, 2018
The Young Adult literature industry is the latest to be roiled in sexual harassment controversy. What started as a survey of harassment in the industry, discussed in a recent article written by Anne Ursu on the Medium platform, has led to accusations of improper sexual behavior by well-known YA author Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator David Díaz (Smoky Night).
After Ursu’s essay appeared, another article, “Children’s Publishing Reckons with Sexual Harassment in Its Ranks,” was published on the School Library Journal blog, and accusations began being made in the comments section. The accusations centered on behavior at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Annual Conference (SCBWI). Both Asher and Díaz have since been expelled from the Society for violating the code of conduct, according to Executive Director Lin Oliver. Asher denies this, claiming that he left voluntarily in a statement to BuzzFeed. “The truth is that I had been harassed by these people for close to 10 years,” Asher said of the anonymous individuals who reported him to the SCBWI. “And I just could not deal with it anymore.”
Díaz’s accuser, Ishta Mercurio, initially approached Lin Oliver in fall 2017 with her claims of harassment that took place at the 2012 conference, and asked to remain anonymous, but has since decided to make herself known. Mercurio reported that Díaz “fondled a lock of [her] hair and leaned in to [her] ear and said, ‘You’re kinky, aren’t you?’” Díaz did apologize to Mercurio after the allegations were made, and she accepted his apology.
James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner series, has also been accused of harassment, and has since been dropped by his agent, Michael Bourret of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. “Under the circumstances, I couldn’t in good conscience continue working with James, and I let him go,” Bourret said. His publisher, Random House, has also stated they would not publish any future books of his. Jay Asher has also been let go by his literary agency, Andrea Brown.
Lin Oliver commented on the School Library Journal article, stating the SCBWI has initiated a group email correspondence for people so that they may openly express their concerns: “I am listening and learning and open to your comments, and especially to the stories of victims. Please understand that SCBWI can only take action on what has been reported. … As of tomorrow, we will open a new email called firstname.lastname@example.org where anyone who has been victimized can report the offense. A committee of our Board will review and respond.”