Young adult author Daniel Handler has been accused by multiple women in the publishing community of lewd and inappropriate sexual comments over the course of several years. These allegations came to light following recent moves by the world of publishing—particularly young adult and children’s publishing—to take action against sexual harassment and abuse. Handler’s is better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the best-selling books A Series of Unfortunate Events.
The allegations surfaced after young adult author Gwenda Bond wrote a blog post on her website, inviting fellow authors and members of the industry to take a stand against sexual harassment. She asked them to take a pledge that would mean boycotting conventions that lack strong and enforced harassment policies. When Handler took the pledge, several women stepping forward with claims that he had berated them with lewd and inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. This comes on the heels of two prominent authors of young adult literature, Jay Asher and James Dashner, being publicly accused of sexual harassment. Which might suggest the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have finally hit the YA publishing world. It’s about time, because while its readership and big-name authors skew female, the power positions remain solidly in the hands of men, including male authors with clout their female colleagues rarely attain.
Regarding a 2013 encounter with Handler, author Kate Messner shared how he interrupted her conversation with friends to shout “Are you a virgin too?” Messner claims, he later told her and other authors, “These children’s book events always turn into orgies.” Other women commented on this to claim similar experiences.
Author Roseanne Parry recounted a ‘crass and belittling’ joke Handler made about her, one so bad that a teenage girl felt the need to tell Handler, “Stop talking like that to women.” He allegedly offered no apology.
Librarian Angie Manfredi* recalled that at a 2001 conference, she told Handler she wasn’t scared of him. To which he reportedly said, “If you’re not afraid, go knock on the door of (some random room number) and make out with whoever answers.”
Handler responded to the accusations in the comments, saying:
“It has never been my wish to insult any of my professional colleagues. My whole life my sense of humor has not been for everyone, and my books continue to be regarded, by a segment of the population, as inappropriate … I take seriously the responsibilities of my visibility, and have always thought that treating all of my colleagues the same was the best way to dispel the unease that can come from a competitive or self-conscious environment … I am listening and willing to listen; I am learning and willing to learn.”
Handler’s “sense of humour” previously landed him in hot water in 2014, when he hosted the National Book Awards and made a ‘joke’ about how ironic it was that celebrated black author Jacqueline Woodson was allergic to watermelon. He later apologised and pledged to donate $10k to the We Need Diverse Books campaign.
I’m sure there are those ready to tell me that all of this “isn’t that bad,” and that those women should lighten up or something. They might argue complaints against lewd remarks like Handler’s “weaken the #timesup movement,” or that #metoo is forcing them to stop making jokes and blah blah censorship or something. But let’s not play ignorance here, okay? The devil has enough advocates.
Let me put it this way: Imagine you were just doing your job when one of the most powerful people in your field, one with millions of adoring fans and money to spare, lorded over you how he could brag about sex and demand to know if you were a virgin. And you both knew he would get away with it. What would your reaction be if a colleague told you to go hate-fuck someone because you stood up to them? How would you feel if all of this was happening and the man at the centre of it was protected not only by fame and fortune but by the love of fans who are young enough to be your own kids?
With Netflix set to premiere the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events on March 30th, it’ll be interesting to see how the network responds to their latest sexual misconduct scandal.