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REVIEW SEASON

A scandal at The Paris Review shines a light on misconduct at boozy literary soirées

Thu-Huong Ha
By Thu-Huong Ha

Reporter

The US’s tidal wave of sexual assault reckonings has come for one of the literary world’s most prominent tastemakers.

Lorin Stein, the 44-year-old editor-in-chief of the storied literary magazine the Paris Review, has resigned. The New York Times reported (paywall) Dec. 6 that he is stepping down amid an internal investigation into his treatment of women on his staff and in the publishing industry. Stein has also left his post at Farrar Straus & Giroux, where he was an editor at large.

Stein admitted to inappropriate behavior. “At times in the past, I blurred the personal and the professional in ways that were, I now recognize, disrespectful of my colleagues and our contributors, and that made them feel uncomfortable or demeaned,” he wrote to the magazine’s board the day he resigned. “I am very sorry for any hurt I caused them.”

Book parties and schmoozing over drinks are fixtures of literary life, but in a climate where sexual misconduct is coming to light in all corners of society, the social side of publishing is coming under scrutiny. “For all its intellectual rigor, The Paris Review has been known to stage raucous parties,” writes the Times, “And some women who worked there said it had a sexually charged office culture that Mr. Stein helped to cultivate.”

The Times reports that Stein admitted to having consensual sex in the office after hours and includes an account from an unnamed woman who says Stein touched her underwear without permission under the table at a work dinner.

Under Stein’s watch, the venerable magazine cultivated an aesthetic of librarian chic combined with hipster youthfulness, an image bolstered by coverage of the young editor. Profiles and interviews with Stein emphasized his panache, smoking habit, love of drink, and his dating life (prior to his marriage in 2015). A year after Stein was named the new editor of the magazine, the Times ran a profile (paywall) anointing him “Paris Review’s new party boy” in the headline. “Bacchanalian nights are practically inscribed in the job description,” said the writer.

The focus on Stein as fun, sexy, and part of the alcohol-soaked culture of book publishing romanticizes a playground for bad behavior, steeped in the legendary excesses of Fitzgerald and gin-soaked rants of Hemingway.

As Quartz’s Leah Fessler wrote last week, in a piece about Vox Media nixing the open-bar policy for its holiday party, drinking and an intimate atmosphere are no excuses for abuse or harassment. “Blaming sexual misconduct and sexual crimes on alcohol—even implicitly—is shirking the responsibility of all humans to treat their co-workers respectfully even when there’s liquor on hand,” she writes.

If booze, parties, and late nights are part of the job—as they are in the literary world and many other fields—women shouldn’t have to go expecting to ward off sexual advances. They should be able to expect professional behavior and a foundation of respect.

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