The #MeToo movement is hitting the literary world with multiple allegations against author Junot Diaz. These allegations coming to light have inspired author and poet Mary Karr to speak up about the abuse she suffered from late literary icon David Foster Wallace. According to Karr Wallace admitted the abuse and stalking he inflicted on her in letters that his biographer read. The biographer has mentioned in an interview that DFW once bought a gun in a murder plot against Mary Karr’s husband, and wrote about DFW pushing Karr out of a moving car and throwing a coffee table at her, but Karr, who briefly dated Wallace, says the abuse she suffered from DFW went much further than that.
Karr started the conversation by saying she’s saddened about the allegations against Junot Diaz. She then brings up the fact that the violence she experienced from David Foster Wallace, who died from suicide in 2008, was largely ignored despite his biographer having Wallace’s own admission of these acts. She goes on to imply that maybe this was because DFW was white, unlike Junot Diaz, but it seems to have more to do with the fact that Karr’s issues with David Foster Wallace first came to light years before the #MeToo movement.
Deeply saddened by the allegations against #JunotDiaz & I support every woman brave enough to speak. The violence #DavidFosterWallace inflicted on me as a single mom was ignored by his biographer & @NewYorker as ‘alleged’ despite my having letters in his hand. But DFW was white.
— Mary Karr, Author (@marykarrlit) May 4, 2018
When @Palvashits brought up that they read about the car and coffee table incidents in David Foster Wallace’s biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, Karr claimed that these incidents represented on 2% of what happened.
that’s about 2% of what happened. tried to buy a gun. kicked me. climbed up the side of my house at night. followed my son age 5 home from school. had to change my number twice, and he still got it. months and months it went on
— Mary Karr, Author (@marykarrlit) May 5, 2018
She goes on to describe what sounds like intense stalking from David Foster Wallace. It went so far as the famous author following her five-year-old son home from school and climbing up the side of her house. She said she changed her number multiple times, but he always found a way to find out her new number. She also said he kicked her, and “tried to buy a gun.” It’s unclear if this is a separate time from when he tried to buy a gun to kill Karr’s husband. When his biographer D. T. Max spoke to The Atlantic about that particular incident, it was framed in the context of an example of how beautiful David Foster Wallace’s writing could be.
Max read about DFW’s homicidal tendencies in a letter he wrote to the head of his halfway house. “The craftsmanship of that letter is quite remarkable,” he noted of that particular letter. “You read it like a David Foster Wallace essay.” It’s presumably these letters that Mary Karr is talking about in her tweets. When @enderandpeter asks Karr to show the letters to prove what she’s saying because she’s “not as eager as other fans of DFW to just smear the guy out of nowhere.” Karr replies that “the biographer has read them.”
When @rifat_islam asks for a link to where she has written more about what happened to her, Mary responds that she has not written about her experience before because “because nobody believed me. or they believed and didnt give a shit…. alas. i am not the only one.” Throughout the Twitter discussion several of his former students speak out about their uncomfortable situations with him, and Karr multiple times agrees that he “preyed” on students and admirers.
David Foster Wallace once said that he wrote his most respected work, Infinite Jest, to try to get Mary Karr’s attention. Of course he put it more crudely, quipping that the work was a “means to her end.” Although Karr has has much literary success in her own right like with her 2005 memoir Liar’s Club and her recent work of poetry Tropic of Squalor she is almost always asked about her relationship with Wallace in interviews meant to promote her own work.
oh i have been shamed and shunned for saying such things
i didnt entirely defend him. i said he was a brat
i was an abused child and am screwed up in some ways related to that
a sick part of me kept waiting for an apology!
i was sad he killed himself despite everything….
— Mary Karr, Author (@marykarrlit) May 5, 2018
Of course whenever there are allegations or reports like this against an artist or creator, the issue comes up about whether or not the art they created should be read (or watched, etc.) There are so many great works of art created by deeply flawed humans, it would almost be impossible to only consume culture created by people of the best behavior or characters. Mary herself expressed this sentiment when someone asked her if, in light of her comments, they should continue reading Infinite Jest.
Oh just read it. I still read loads of books by folks w deplorable acts in their bios. I have been emboldened to speak out about this by the bravery of my students& #metoo #timesup. Also, DFW abused others & preyed on his students & I didn’t want them to have to hide anymore.
— Mary Karr, Author (@marykarrlit) May 6, 2018
Amelia Cunningham is a Starcasm writer and editor