Shortly after the New York Times and the New Yorker jointly reported on the sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet called Shitty Media Men began to circulate, particularly among women, in New York City media and publishing circles. The document collected allegations and rumors of sexual abuse and harassment against men in those industries, sparking investigations, backlash, and soul-searching, and is widely considered a prime mover in bringing the #MeToo movement to the publishing industry.
In the aftermath of the release of Shitty Media Men came the dismissals or resignations, due to sexual harassment allegations, of a number of editors whose names appeared on it, including Paris Review editor Lorin Stein and Atlantic editor Leon Wieseltier. Several other prominent men named on the list resigned this year for different reasons, and whether they did so as a result of Shitty Media Men remains the subject of speculation. What is no longer a speculation is the name of the list’s creator: Moira Donegan.
Donegan, a former editor at the New Republic and a columnist for the U.S. edition of the Guardian since May, inked a book deal in October for an as-yet-untitled “primer on dealing with sexual harassment” with Scribner, whose v-p and executive editor, Kathy Belden, bought North American rights from Monika Woods at Curtis Brown. (“Moira has helped us recognize and confront ongoing issues relating to sexual harassment within our industry and beyond,” Belden says.) That same month, author Stephen Elliott, the founder and former editor-in-chief of online literary magazine the Rumpus, filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York seeking $1.5 million in damages from Donegan and “Jane Does (1–30)” for libel and “emotional distress.” (Donegan is represented by Roberta Kaplan, who won the landmark 2013 case United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and required the recognition of same-sex marriages.)
Shortly thereafter, Graywolf Press, which published a collection of Elliott’s essays in 2017, made its opinion on his lawsuit clear via its Twitter account. “Graywolf strives to publish literature that reflects empathy, understanding, and generosity of spirit,” the press said in the statement. “The lawsuit brought by Stephen Elliott is not consistent with those values, and in the strongest possible way we express concern for those who may be harmed if it goes forward.”
Over the past year, Donegan’s imprint on the publishing industry—in which women make up approximately 80% of the workforce and men hold a disproportionate number of positions of power—cannot be overstated. Since the circulation of the list, a number of women came forward with allegations against figures previously considered untouchable, perhaps the most prominent of whom was author Sherman Alexie, who declined the Carnegie Medal in nonfiction for his memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, earlier this year. The list also sparked a conversation in literary circles and on social media that only continues more passionately as the #MeToo movement gains momentum. It has turned a light onto the darker spaces in the book business, as Donegan well knows.
“The #MeToo movement is part of a long history of women’s determination and resolve in bringing our experiences of sexual violence to light,” Donegan says. “I’m grateful that the book I’m writing gives me the opportunity to explore the moral and political legacy of those efforts, and to look forward at ways to build a more just, more equitable future.”