Following news surrounding the removal of Jay Asher and David Díaz from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators on charges of sexual harassment, the SCBWI has announced a revised anti-harassment policy. Meanwhile, Asher, who categorically denies the SCBWI’s statement that he violated its code of conduct, has retained the services of a lawyer and insists he is still an SCBWI member.
“It is of paramount importance to SCBWI that we maintain a welcoming and safe environment for all members of our community,” the SCBWI said in a statement, adding: “We would like to take this opportunity to express deep regret that any harassment occurred within the SCBWI community. We hope that our newly crafted and detailed anti-harassment policies and procedures will ensure that SCBWI is a safe space for everyone. We care about our members, and put their emotional and physical safety and comfort as our highest priority.”
Those policies, as promised, include a detailed code of conduct for SCBWI events and a “complete definition of what constitutes harassment,” in addition to a new reporting procedure for members and a “list of sanctions for offenders.” The SCBWI has also, as PW previously reported, opened a direct email hotline for reporting harassment concerns at email@example.com, where complaints can be filed either personally or anonymously.
Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Asher released a statement to KSBY, the NBC affiliate in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, flatly denying SCBWI executive director Lin Oliver’s statement to the Associated Press on February 12, in which she said the society had found both Asher and Díaz to have violated the previously existing SCBWI code of conduct in manners that constituted harassment and had been expelled from the organization.
“The SCBWI’s recent statement about author Jay Asher is completely false,” Asher’s spokesperson’s statement read. “In April 2017, Mr. Asher voluntarily agreed that he would no longer attend SCBWI conferences. This was in response to many years of harassment from a group of authors with whom he had consensual relationships that ended with some hurt feelings when they learned about each other.”
In the statement, Asher claimed that he was never banned by SCBWI and is still a member in good standing; “in fact,” it continued, “when he let his membership in the group lapse last summer, Lin Oliver, the group’s executive director, suggested that he keep his membership going. He did as requested, and Mr. Asher’s membership is active today. There was no allegation, investigation, or finding of sexual harassment.” (In talking to BuzzFeed yesterday, Asher said he left the organization of his own accord.)
The statement also portrayed the “relationships” Asher conducted during this period as consensual, while admitting that both Asher and many of the women he was involved with were married at the time. “These women were not subordinates of Mr. Asher; they were his peers and they each entered into romantic relationships with him voluntarily, with some initially pursuing him,” the statement read. “The false statements to the news media have resulted in inaccurate and hurtful news coverage, which is threatening Mr. Asher’s livelihood. Mr. Asher has retained legal counsel and will take whatever steps necessary to set the record straight.”
Asher’s statement stands in contrast not only to the SCBWI’s statements, but to a number of anonymous accusations in the comments section of a School Library Journal article published in January, where other authors, including Díaz, were named multiple times. It also stands in contrast to correspondence PW has received from a number of sources—who wish to protect their identities by remaining anonymous—much of which paints a different portrait of Asher’s behavior.
In a response to Asher’s statement, Oliver told PW that she thinks this moment is “less about calling out individuals and more about the industry taking a look at itself and taking positive action on what is clearly a relevant issue.” She added: “I hope the children’s publishing industry can set an example of how to treat and protect women as well as how to process and discuss an issue with helpful dialogue and action.”
Additionally, in spite of Asher’s denial of the charges, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, where Asher was represented primarily by Laura Rennert, has dropped him as a client. (PW has yet to hear back from Rennert after requesting comment.) “We have counseled Jay to take a step back from the industry and he’s doing so,” the statement reads. “If any of you have experienced harassment or bullying, have found yourself in uncomfortable situations, or have questions or concerns, please now that our doors are open to you.”
Another author frequently named in the SLJ article comment section, James Dashner, was also reportedly dropped by his agent, Michael Bourret, at Dystel, Goderich Bourret. As of time of publication, Bourret was unavailable to comment to PW.
Meanwhile, the children’s literature community continues to rally around the alleged victims. Author and former PW contributing editor Gwenda Bond has started an online pledge, “#metoo #ustoo Change Starts Now: Stand Against Harassment in the YA/Kidlit Community,” that has already received well over 1,000 signatures. A large number of those signatures come from authors, illustrators, and agents in the children’s book community, including Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, Dan Santat, and Melissa de la Cruz, among many others.
“The post went live for co-signers last Friday and as of this morning, more than 1,000 people have signed on,” Bond said. “As it should, it includes some of the biggest names in our field alongside brand new writers, conference organizers, readers, and other industry professionals.”
She added: “This takes all of us. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response, and am intensely hopeful that change is happening. I’ve already heard from conferences that they are acting immediately. There have been important discussions about acceptable behavior in the comments. I’m reminded why this community is special and why I believe we will stop this. The time when abusers could get away with these actions is over. It must be.”
This article has been updated with further information.