After weeks of anonymous and vague accusations of sexual harassment against prominent Seattle author Sherman Alexie, three women gave NPR on-the-record accounts of specific allegations.
After weeks of anonymous and vague accusations of sexual harassment against prominent Seattle author Sherman Alexie, three women have come forward with the first on-the-record accounts of specific allegations.
The women’s allegations, reported Monday by NPR, range from inappropriate comments to “flirting that veered suddenly into sexual territory, unwanted sexual advances and consensual sexual relations that ended abruptly,” according to NPR, which also reported the women said Alexie had “traded on his literary celebrity to lure them into uncomfortable sexual situations.”
Ten women spoke to NPR, three of whom went on the record, according to the radio news producer.
Alexie did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
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He had released a statement last week addressing the anonymous accusations against him, acknowledging that he’s hurt people over the years but rejecting “the accusations, insinuations, and outright falsehoods” made by local writer Litsa Dremousis, who, while not accusing him of sexually harassing her, “has led charges against me.”
Jeanine Walker, a poet and teacher in Seattle who was one of the three women who spoke on the record, told NPR that she and Alexie became friendly after she had arranged for him to visit a classroom, and he had expressed interest in her poetry. One day, after meeting to play basketball, she went to change her clothes, then found him right behind her, saying, ‘ “Can I kiss you?’ I said no and backed away, and he kept moving forward,” Walker told NPR.
“It just felt very wrong,” Walker told the radio producer, that Alexie had seemed to express interest in her work but that the interest was “actually physical.”
Walker could not be reached for comment Monday.
Writer Elissa Washuta told NPR that, during a social occasion, Alexie told her “he could have sex with me if he wanted to. But he used a stronger word, beginning with F.”
“I felt I really needed his approval,” she said to NPR. “I felt like I could laugh off that comment in a way. But I still felt that he had so much power that I should probably not make a fuss about this.”
She later cut off her relationship with the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as Alexie became an increasingly influential faculty member there, NPR reported.
On Monday, Washuta confirmed the NPR account, but declined to comment further, saying: “This is a whole lot for me to deal with right now.”
Writer Erika Wurth told NPR she was 22 when she met Alexie, and that after attending one of his readings in Colorado about a year later, they walked back to his hotel, where he tried to kiss her and invited her to his room.
She went, and he began kissing her and taking off her clothes, she told the news network, adding “I’m just stock still, and I think at that point, in my opinion, he realized that if he wanted to have sex with me he would have to violate me, he’d have to rape me. And he did stop.”
Wurth did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday.
In his statement last week, Alexie had written: “Over the years, I have done things that have harmed other people, including those I love most deeply. To those whom I have hurt, I genuinely apologize. I am so sorry.”
He had also said: “There are women telling the truth about my behavior and I have no recollection of physically or verbally threatening anybody or their careers. That would be completely out of character. I have made poor decisions and I am working hard to become a healthier man who makes healthier decisions.”
The accusations that precipitated the recent firestorm appear to have first shown up publicly in anonymous comments on a Jan. 3 School Library Journal post about sexual harassment in the children’s book industry.
The article did not mention Alexie by name, but the comments thread had at least five anonymous accusations, including: “Sherman Alexie. #Me too.”
On Feb. 23, author Dremousis, who has acknowledged having a consensual sexual relationship with Alexie in the past, began a long Twitter thread, writing she’d “known about the allegations against Sherman Alexie for months now.”
Since the online firestorm began, The Seattle Times has reached out to dozens of writers, industry professionals and others who have worked with Alexie.
Some said they hadn’t experienced or witnessed problems with Alexie. A few people said they had secondhand information of problems with Alexie. Many declined to comment or didn’t respond to messages.
Dremousis said Monday, after the NPR report came out, that the women who have come forward are “phenomenally brave.”