Founding editor of ‘Oxford American’ gets the boot over sex harass claims; tells tales

Marc Smirnoff. (Oxford American via flickr)
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Perfect steamy Southern Gothic for the dead days of summer: Have you read the one about Marc Smirnoff, founder of the 20-year-old Arkansas-by-way-of-Mississippi literary magazine The Oxford American?

It begins one night in a secluded mountain cabin, where a chain of events unfolded that would ultimately lead to Smirnoff's firing from the quarterly he created and named in 1992.

At the center of the tale, written by Julie Bosman of The New York Times, are a 19-year-old intern and a handful of her young colleagues who apparently crossed Smirnoff during that fateful July 4 staff retreat.

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There are two versions to the story of what happened next: The intern's, and Smirnoff's, which he relayed to Bosman during an interview in his "small rented house with blue shutters" while "slouched in a living-room chair, gesturing wildly and sprinkling his sentences with quotations from Shakespeare."

Of course by "two versions," we meant to say, "the same version." Bosman writes:

Mr. Smirnoff said the staff was playing a drinking game, loudly, and ignored his request to stop. (He stopped drinking a decade ago, he said.)

The next morning he berated the female intern in front of the other staff members when she refused to help clean up a mess in the kitchen. Then, after insisting that the intern ride back to Conway with him, he asked her if she wanted to hold hands. She declined, he said, saying she’d rather “hold hands with a dead dog.” Still, he told her he wanted to take her to his favorite make-out spot.

Mr. Smirnoff’s account matched the description the intern provided the magazine’s board.

Would you have fired him?

For Smirnoff's part, according to Bosman, he insists that his "touching of employees was always 'paternalistic and nonsexual,' that his former colleagues are "undermining him through a board that he described as 'manipulated and insolent,'" and that the "complaints about his behavior ... stemmed from his having recently disciplined or fired several employees for insubordination."

The rest of it is here.

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