CSUMB scores Pulitzer-winning Junot Díaz for its President’s Speaker Series.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
In 1996, Junot Díaz burst onto the literary scene with Drown, a short story collection set in his native Dominican Republic and New Jersey. It included “Ysrael,” a tale about brothers who form a plan to tear the mask off a Dominican kid whose face was disfigured by a pig, and “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie.”
Drown caused The New Yorker to proclaim Díaz one of “20 Writers for the 21st Century.” But then there was silence – for 11 long years. “I spent that decade plus wrestling words every day and trying to make some sense of what was happening on the page,” Díaz says from Boston, where he teaches at M.I.T. “I just spent most of it working in disbelief that I got stuck with such a difficult project.”
That project, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which follows a chunky comic book – and science fiction-obsessed kid living in New Jersey with a family that hails from the Dominican Republic, landed with a resounding bang in 2007. Stocked with humorous footnotes on D.R.’s history and as richly allusive as a T.S. Eliot poem – it nods to everything from geek culture (Dune) to ’80s pop (Bon Jovi’s “Runaway”) – it won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Like Wao, Díaz loved comics and sci-fi as a kid, a passion he thinks was spurred by his immigration at 6 years old. “Going to other worlds resonated for a kid who left one world to travel to the next one,” he says. “Had I never left, I probably wouldn’t have had anything but a few very dim memories, but I have very strong memories about place, people, community, culture, language and even the political occurrences.”
While Wao penned novels before heading to Rutgers, Díaz wasn’t as precocious. “I wrote a bunch of nonsense in college,” he says. “It was important to get that out so I could get to the good stuff.”
Díaz, who is working on a new novel, says the Pulitzer win hasn’t made writing easier. “I still have to get up, and face the blank page. It’s not like it suddenly makes it easier. Sometimes, it makes it harder.”