Latest Page Turner: ‘Kid Lit’ Has Its #MeToo Moment, Too
Jay Asher of '13 Reasons Why' fame, plus other prominent writers, illustrators and publishing pros face allegations
On the day after the children’s literature world’s equivalent of the Oscars occurred — when the year’s Newbery, Caldecott, and other award-winners are announced — the “kid lit” world was rocked by dramatic news.
Discussion of the well-earned accolades bestowed by the American Library Association on Monday was eclipsed Tuesday morning by the announcement that writer Jay Asher and illustrator David Díaz both had been expelled from the industry’s professional organization.
Both award-winning children’s literature pillars are facing allegations of sexual impropriety.
Jay Asher wrote “13 Reasons Why,” a wildly popular young adult novel that details the sexual assault, bullying, and betrayal that led to a fictional adolescent’s suicide. Netflix’s web-televised adaptation of “13 Reasons” was criticized recently for failing to provide adequate warning to viewers about the stark nature of the content.
Díaz is a Caldecott-winning illustrator whose works include “Smoky Night,” “The Wanderer,” and “The Little Scarecrow Boy.”
Lin Oliver, executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the industry’s most prominent professional organization, wrote in an email to the Associated Press, “Both Jay Asher and David Díaz were found to have violated the SCBWI code of conduct in regard to harassment. Claims against them were investigated and, as a result, they are no longer members and neither will be appearing at any SCBWI events in the future.”
Oliver also said Asher was banned from the organization last year.
Asher, however, not only denied the accusations, but he disputes the characterization of his exit from SCBWI. He says he was the one victimized by his accusers — and for quite some time, according to BuzzFeed’s coverage.
"The truth is that I had been harassed by these people for close to 10 years," Asher said of the anonymous people who reported him to the SCBWI, as BuzzFeed explained. "And I just could not deal with it anymore."
"It's very scary when you know people are just not going to believe you once you open your mouth," Asher told BuzzFeed News. "I feel very conflicted about it just because of what's going on in the culture and who's supposed to be believed and who's not."
Many in the industry were stunned and saddened by the revelations, which were covered by the Associated Press, The New York Times, and several additional news outlets. Other people saw the writing on the wall long ago.
Last December, for example, an executive art director at Penguin Random House's children's imprint, Giuseppe Castellano, resigned after harassment allegations were lodged by actress Charlyne Yi in November. That saga unfolded on Twitter.
On January 3 of this year, School Library Journal reported allegations against Díaz by a then-anonymous source. Last week, the anonymous source was revealed to be Ishta Mercurio, an actor and writer.
Not unlike other industries, the world of children's literature was quick to condemn both Asher and Díaz based on the allegations alone.
Not unlike other industries, the world of children's literature was quick to condemn both Asher and Díaz based on the allegations alone. Being tried and convicted in the court of social media has become the norm in today's white-hot #MeToo climate, of course — and though the presumption of innocence is a primary tenet of America's system of justice, a major exception is apparently made in the case of sexual harassment allegations lodged against men.
Can the presumption of innocence and an unconditional belief in victims' accounts coexist? Can we support victims and support the (potentially wrongly) accused? The short answer is yes.
Supporting both potential victims in what often boils down to a "he said, she said" situation requires a willingness to entertain two seemingly disparate notions simultaneously. Even more than that, it requires a willingness to face a social media scourging, should one dare to suggest that men (and women) can be falsely accused of sexual impropriety — which makes them victims worthy of protection, too.
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.