According to the New York Times, Jay Asher, author of the book and now hugely successful albeit controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), as he claims there was little or no investigation into allegagtions made against him during the #MeToo movement, which resulted SCBWI annoucing that Asher “had violated the professional organization’s anti-harassment policy. “Asher is seeking a jury trial and unspecified financial damages” from the the Society.
The allegations made against Asher date back to April 2017, when executive director of SCBWI, Lin Oliver, was contacted by seven women who claimed that “Asher had used the group’s conferences to prey on women sexually, then threatened them to intimidate them into silence, making them ‘feel unsafe to attend SCBWI events.'”
Asher has stated that the women were colleagues of his, and that while he had conducted extramarital affairs with them, these were consensual, apart from his relationship with one woman, who, he claims, coerced him into sex and proceeded to engage in harassing him relentlessly over. the subsequent decade.
The New York Times notes that the lawsuit asserts that Oliver “made false and defamatory statements about him that torpedoed his career, and caused financial harm and intentional emotional distress,” and goes on to list the effects that SCBWI’s actions have had on Asher and his career, saying his “literary agency dropped him, speaking engagements and book signings evaporated, and some bookstores removed his novels from their shelves.”
Asher also claims that Oliver ignored contrary evidence due to personal grievances relating to Asher’s success and that one woman had even admitted her accusations to be false.
“who does that? she asked
thread by thread stitching
the whos to hers whys to the hows”
－Laurie Halse Anderson, SHOUT
The above self-questioning scene maybe speaks for those who have experience with sexual assault: why me? Why him? Why her? How? How? How—— Laurie Halse Anderson knows it deeply. Best known for her young adult novel Speak, Anderson has decided to break the silence and the ever-lasting self-doubt, and shout out her own experiences with sexual assault to the world via her memoir SHOUT which is woven out of powerful, poetic words, to empower those unmuted hearts.
According to Bustle, Laurie Halse Anderson, as a rape survivor grew up in a family where “staying silent was valued more than truth.” “I finally have the perspective to talk directly about my experience as a rape survivor,” she told Bustle. “I grew up in a house where silence was more valued than truth — it took a long time to grow out of those restraints.”
At the age of thirteen, Anderson was raped. Being hurt, physically and mentally, Anderson has been muted (by herself, her family, her school, and the whole society) for twenty years until she confessed her painful experience to a therapist, to the public:
I lost my voice for a very long time after I was raped…I lost myself, too. Shout is a poetry tapestry that shares the darkness of my silent years and shows how writing helped me speak up. Shout is a declaration of war against rape culture and a celebration of survival.
In 1999, Before writing SHOUT, the publication of her first and best-selling YA novel Speak helped to raise awareness of sexual assault, and allowed Anderson to address her own concerns about sexual assault, especially for teenagers, in society. Her semi-autobiographical novel, Speak revolves around Melinda Sordino, a fourteen-year-old high-school freshman who is raped by a senior in a party. On the spot, she calls 911 but doesn’t know what to say, so she runs home while the police come and break up the party. Back at school, Melinda is bullied by her peers for calling the police－and her depression becomes worse while the fear keeps silencing her. Speak has been hugely influential since its release and has become part of the curriculum in some high schools, while being banned in others. In 2004, the novel was adapted into a movie with the same name, featuring Kristen Stewart.
Anderson’s Speak and the derivative Emily Carroll’s graphic novel | Image via Amazon and Paste Magazine
Though Speak speaks for those who share the same unspeakable experience with Anderson, after almost twnety years, society is still under the dome of unpleasant abusive sexual scandals. Seeing the rise of social campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, Anderson feels comforting for their power of making the world over: “This cultural movement has been building since the early 1970s,” she said to Bustle, “It started as a tiny wave in the middle of the ocean, but now it is a tsunami reaching the shore and washing the world with truth.” However, on the other hand, Anderson feels angry about the status quo in which there are still powerless people crying in dark while powerful victimizers are still victorious. Anderson said to Washington Post that:
When I started Shout, it was just my rage: Why can’t we talk about these things? Watching these brave people speak up as part of #MeToo just let me take the lid off, and that felt good. It was a second liberation for me.
I see my responsibility as helping people move away from ‘me too’ to ‘us too’…I hope that some readers will find it and feel less alone…America’s teenagers are hungry for honesty and they are hungry for hope — and that’s what I’m trying to give them.
Anderson’s SHOUT aims to create a sense of community to fight against the forced-to-be-muted isolation that she felt as a young woman and a rape victim. If Speak is a book speaking for the victims, then SHOUT is a call to the action, that adds more waves along with the tsunami of current social movements. According to Washington Post, SHOUT is written in free verse and poetic language, and is divided into two sections. In the first half, the author shares her own experience in the sexual abusive world, and how that unforgettable traumatic memories led her to the creation of Speak. The second half is a “manifesto,” as Anderson herself indicated, about “listening to and reflecting on a culture where sexual violence is rampant.” Most significantly, SHOUT is a thank-you letter to those young victims who used to live in the darkness and have courage to speak with their family members, friends, teachers, Anderson, or merely themselves, about the sexual assaults. No matter if the words are addressed online, written, or orally, Anderson appreciates all those unmuted hearts striving to live, to speak, and to shout, “I’ll walk with you,” she said.
As a feminist reader, I love Anderson’s use of “weaving” to embody the complex of pain and bravery. The weaving falls apart when the hearts are falling apart; it is broken, loosen, and untidy forever, yet when those with the unmuted hearts mend their own experiences, with tear and blood, into the weaving of tapestry. They are not alone anymore. Though the pain remains, the power of confession, storytelling, language, when they are rallied, it becomes the forceful support for human sexuality and healthy intimacy, and the resilient fighter against rape culture and toxic masculinity.
I look forward to Laurie Halse Anderson’s upcoming SHOUT which is scheduled to be published on March 12, 2019 from Penguin Teen, and I wholeheartedly advocate the rampant vegetation of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #SHOUT.