Over the thirty some years I've been hosting visiting writers, there have been a few who have stood out as difficult divas (I'm including men here, too). These are the ones who say things to the students such as, "I'm a famous writer. Why aren't you asking me questions?" And, "That's a stupid question. Go sit down!"
At the restaurant, there was the one who glanced at his food and said to the waitress, "You don't expect me to eat this, do you?" The head of our department, who was at the table, said to me, "Over my dead body will he ever be invited back to our campus."
We live in the South, and politeness is the order of the day. So when divas come in and start commanding people to do things, or speak in short imperative sentences, the local population stops dead.
The biggest tip-off that a diva will be trouble and will cause problems in the community, problems that will echo in gossip for years after that person is dead--the biggest red flag occurs when that visiting writer is rude to the English Department secretary. Friends, this is a person who makes close to minimum wage, and who keeps the department running. Never never piss off the English Department secretary!
But I'm supposed to be talking about dealing with difficult writers. As the host, I try to anticipate every problem area, and to fend them off before they happen. I try to be the lightning rod so that others don't experience unpleasantness.
This doesn't always work. One recent visiting diva sent away the signer who was interpreting for the deaf. The hearing-impaired community filed a grievance. Who could blame them! I didn't anticipate that one! Oy!
Divas, they don't pay any of us enough to deal with you! And word does get out. You can't expect to get work if everyone knows that you are a pain in the butt.
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.