Editors Resign From Literary Mag Over Interview with “Iowa Pariah”

Hobart Magazine is in turmoil over writer Alex Perez’s words about tote bag women and cancel culture

Empty reusable canvas tote bag mockup. Natural canvas eco-friendly shopper bag on girl's shoulder. M...
Tote-al Eclipse of the Art

On September 29, the literary magazine Hobart published an interview with Alex Perez, a writer who attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2009 after his ambitions of being a pro baseball player fizzled out. Born in Miami and raised in a working class immigrant family, “the Iowa pariah” describes himself as a “heterodox” writer of “masculine fiction.” After Hurricane Irma nearly hit Miami in 2017, Perez says he stopped being a “pussy,” dropped his lit agent, and “started writing about all the stuff I was secretly talking about with friends.”

The interview with Hobart editor Elizabeth Ellen is a wild ride that covers all sorts of ground from “rich whites” in publishing, wokeness, and the extended grift that comprises the MFA world.

“My dream of being the next Alex Rodriguez was wiped away, so I decided to give the writing life a shot—maybe I could be the Cuban-American Ray Carver,” Perez told Ellen.

The initial publication didn’t cause too much of a stir, but almost two weeks later on October 11, a Twitter thread by Evan Fleicher (one of Hobart’s own editors) denouncing the interview started gaining traction. The ensuing response led to five editors resigning from the magazine yesterday.

Fleischer told Gawker that he and his fellow editors had no idea that the incendiary interview was going to be posted, and he only saw it this week.

“I saw it on the 11th, reacted on the 11th, discussed it over with other editors over the next day, and — over the course of the day, which included a phone call to Elizabeth — we put together a statement,” he said.

In the resignation letter posted on the Hobart site signed by Fleischer and four others, the former editors wrote:

The content that started all this was regressive, harmful, and also just boring writing. The misogyny and white supremacy were treated with empathetic engagement, and that sucked beyond measure. All this led to attention being taken from the work we are proud to have published, much of it by the very writers Perez denigrated in his interview.

What rankled everyone so bad? The interview is searing, but most discourse seems to revolve around two major themes: white women in publishing and cancellation of non-white male authors.

In the piece, Perez said that Junot Diaz, the Dominican-American author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, changed everything for him. In 2017, author Zinzi Clemmons alleged that when she was a graduate student, Diaz used his proximity to her at a conference to “corner and forcibly kiss” her.

Perez wanted the “canceled” Diaz to reemerge. “If you’re out there, Junot, come back! Don’t let those angry ladies who begged you for blurbs run you out of the game. No seas pendejo. Would Yunior be such a little bitch…”

Later in the interview, Perez says that he doesn’t think Sherman Alexie, the Indigenous author who was accused by several women in 2018 of sexual harassment, should have to spend the rest of his life atoning.

Is Alexie supposed to go on a national speaking tour apologizing to every one of his readers before we’re allowed to read his work again? Does Alexie need to appear out of thin air and prostrate himself before me, “atoning,” whenever I grab The Toughest Indian in the World from my bookshelf?

Perez also said that agents and editors are “careerist gals” that gatekeep the industry because “they want to wear their little tote bags and hang out in their midtown Manhattan offices with their fellow career gals and go to lunch and brunch.” They represent “every white girl from some liberal arts school” and solicit the same kind of work.

Perez’s impression of what this kind of girl is looking for:

I’m interested in BIPOC voices and marginalized communities and white men are evil and all brown people are lovely and beautiful and America is awful and I voted for Hillary and shoved my head into a tote bag and cried cried cried when she lost…

Perez said, “These people on Twitter who ask for atonement from writers they’ve never met aren’t driven by morality; it’s all a purity test.”

Funnily enough, moralists who haven’t met Perez are indeed calling for Hobart’s head. One person encouraged mutuals to offer suggestions for a “problematic lit mag roll call” on Twitter and many others have tweeted and reportedly emailed Ellen demanding their pre-existing work online to be unpublished from the site. At least one other lit mag has offered to re-publish those works, including former Hobart companion site Have Has Had.

Meanwhile, Ellen herself has been tweeting through it on the Hobart account.

To that one: Fleischer does not have a Hobart tattoo, and could not confirm to Gawker how many former editors might.

Perez, Ellen, and other former Hobart editors did not respond to Gawker’s request for comment, but this post will be updated if they do.

UPDATE, 12:20 p.m.:

Hobart editor Elizabeth Ellen has published a “letter from the editor” in response to yesterday’s events:

I never wanted to run this ship. Frankly, I’d rather spend my time writing. It also is more than a little heartbreaking to watch a mutiny. I have undying respect for the founder of this journal. That one might feel one’s livelihood at risk due to an interview one didn’t even read, is odd, if not troubling, but perhaps, evidence of our times.

Ellen writes that she will continue editing the magazine, citing the importance of having “a place in art, in literature, in which fear is not the basis of creation, nor the undercurrent of discussion.” She also notes that she is accepting emails from potential editors, presumably to replace those who just quit.

Speaking of, the public resignation letter signed by former editors no longer appears to be on Hobart’s website. Former editor Evan Fleischer alleged in a tweet that “EE” (presumably referring to Ellen) deleted the letter.

A copy of the deleted letter can be found here.