Last month, young adult author Anne Ursu published an extensive piece on Medium that detailed the various accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour found in the children’s book community. Incidents documented included uninvited touching, unprofessional discourse, bullying in the workplace, and much more. Many of those who talked to Ursu admitted to feeling not only unsafe but professionally compromised, with these actions affecting their careers and ability to work within a competitive industry. I heartily recommend you read the entire piece, because it details something that many have known as an open secret in the publishing world but struggled to talk about openly.
That piece came a month after one featured in the School Library Journal, entitled, ‘Children’s Publishing Reckons with Sexual Harassment in Its Ranks.’ That piece detailed two particular cases: One against illustrator David Díaz, and the other relating to actress Charlyne Yi’s accusations against former Penguin Random House art director Guiseppe Castellano. What soon followed in the comments section was an extensive dialogue and further accusations. From that, two major names emerged: 13 Reasons Why author Jay Asher and The Maze Runner writer James Dashner.
Various authors, bloggers, and industry figures soon took to Twitter to tell their own stories about the pair. Writer Leah Clifford tweeted, ‘I guess I just wanted to add my voice and say YES, Jay Asher using his status and power to sexually harass women writers is something that was well known when I started going to conferences in 2011’.
It was soon revealed that Asher had been expelled from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators due to a violation of their harassment code. Asher later responded to this in a Buzzfeed piece, wherein he claimed that he wasn’t removed from the group but left of his own accord, and that, ‘The truth is that I had been harassed by these people for close to 10 years. And I just could not deal with it anymore.’
James Dashner, whose wildly successful series The Maze Runner recently concluded its movie run, was the other big name mentioned in these allegations.
im so glad the tmr fandom is dropping james dashner, but just in case you're still one of the few who's saying, "but where's the proof?" um please leave pic.twitter.com/2YA3OZI3vk— love, sherna 📚 (@swiftiereads) February 12, 2018
Literary agent Pam Andersen-Victorio detailed her encounter with Dashner, in which he backed her up against a wall and propositioned her. She also detailed a separate encounter involving a man who located her home address to send her unwanted gifts, then followed her to three states in three months. (Disclaimer: I’m online friends with Pam and have been for several years).
Dashner has since been dropped by both his literary agent and his publisher, Random House. Given how massive his books were and how many copies they’ve sold (The Maze Runner spent well over a hundred weeks on the New York Times best-seller list), this is a definitive move by Random House against sexual harassment. Dashner took to Twitter today to offer his response.
A message from me to you… pic.twitter.com/xowMvWpyac— James Dashner (@jamesdashner) February 15, 2018
It’s been a few years now since I was a part of the YA world (I used to be a blogger), but it’s a beautiful and vibrant community that’s long-prized solidarity, progressive values, and accountability. It’s also a world with unusual dynamics: A majority female world where the minority of men still make the major decisions and get the big headlines. YA is usually seen as a young woman’s domain, but it’s those coveted male authors who still get greater narratives and claims of being the category’s ‘savior’. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since this story broke because it exemplifies why it was so tough for these women to come forward. Even in a world where you’re more likely to encounter women than men, they still held all the cards. Power is loud, and selling enough books gives you the ability to silence others. And remember, this is young adult publishing. Even though adult women are prominent supporters and purchasers of it, it’s a world intended for teenagers. Think of the dynamics at play there when it comes to men like Asher and Dashner.
(Header image from Wikimedia Commons)
EDIT: This piece has been edited to correct a mistake made in the reporting of Andersen-Victorio’s tweets. We regret the error.