Latinitas met with New Jersey/Dominican Republic native writer Junot Díaz on his most recent book tour through Austin, TX. Díaz’s first novella Drown was received with national critical acclaim. He followed it with a Pulitzer-prize winning novel: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a story that flips back and forth between the awkward life of a comic-book reading Latino geek to the intricate history of the Dominican Republic from the 20s on, a rugged depiction of the despised and tragic Trujillo dictatorship. Diaz’s newest: This is How You Lose Her, restores Drown’s main character…Yunior as he traverses in and outside the psyche of women, young and old, tethered and lonely, haggard and vibrant.
Latinitas: Who influenced you to write?
Junot: It started at my school library. My future in writing was made in my love of books. The idea of books and the community of books. More than one person will read a book out of the library. Fifty people may have touched the book you are reading, or more. Books, in some ways, travel through time. What you are reading, someone may have read 20 years ago. It was in the school library where my love of books exploded in my brain.
The book that comes to mind that changed my life is Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek. It told me the quotidian challenges of our community could be art. It was the first vocabulary I read of a Latino writer. The immensity of my debt to Sandra Cisneros is too large to be described, what I owe to her.
Latinitas: How much of being a 1st generation American made you write?
Junot: I don’t know if I didn’t wrestle with immigration if I would have written at all. I am also attempting a bridge back to my former life. At the heart of my writing lays my Dominican-ness, my links to African Diaspora.
Latinitas: Book reviewers seem to want to peg you as your main character Yunior in your other books. What are your thoughts about that?
Junot: It’s a way to avoid talking about the artistry and avoids and denigrates the interesting things I write, trying to reduce my writing to memoir.
Latinitas: What do you think of the DREAMers, the undocumented students in the U.S. trying to achieve citizenship?
Junot: They are the bravest part of our civic experiment today. The prejudice against these kids reveals the craven cruelties of our leadership, and their treatment will prove a hideous vindication of society. There courage and leadership of youth is phenomenal. Obama and Romney come awfully short on acknowledging this group.
Latinitas: What do you read?
Latinitas: Everything, huh? You are saying you read science fiction to women’s romance novels?
Junot: Hah! My partner authors women’s romance novels and I’ve learned this is the most voracious reading crowd of all. I am reading histories lately and an anthropology book called Cruel Optimism, that talks about why poor people side with corporations and corrupt leaders. I just read Salmon Rushdie’s newest and check with my friends…The New York Review of Books is probably the best source of good stuff coming out.
Latinitas: What is it like to write a book?
Junot: It’s like running a high altitude marathon. Each book, though takes a different set of muscles. This is How You Lose Her, a reporter pointed out, is a series of apocalypses – relationships, cultures, destruction, rebuilding.
Latinitas: Critics get on you about writing women too, maybe even going as far as calling you a macho. I like how you write women. It might be uncomfortable to see our self-esteem challenges illustrated, but I think you tell our story pretty accurately.
Junot: I am writing of a masculinity I observed. Women have it just hard. I don’t have to be hot, if I’m confident as a man. I don’t have to be confident if I’m prosperous. It doesn’t matter what a woman does, achieves - she is being judged for her looks. And, 1 out of 6 women will report sexual abuse or rape in their life. This is problem with masculinity. And she’s shamed for it or gets no justice.
Latinitas: Speaking of injustice…how does the publishing industry treat Latinos?
Junot: As does the whole country. Not well! We are weened on a steady diet of anti-Latino venom right now breeding a monster afflicting our Latino identity. Our country looks at Latino identity and does everything to afflict her, yet we couldn’t live without her. She is “Atlas” holding up this country.
Latinitas: Your readers assume your characters reflect some components of you, the comic book lover, the voracious reader or even a Dungeons & Dragons player. If you were a teen boy today with all the emerging technology/social media, how do you think you would geek out?
Junot: I guess I’d geek in ways that weren’t popular. I’d probably still be playing Dungeons and Dragons.