Award-Winning Author Discusses Writing, Social Issues
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
When New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani considers an author's writing as "Mario Vargas Llosa meets Star Trek meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West," one can bet he has some interesting things to say. Boston College got an ear-full of this wicked literary fusion with the visit of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz yesterday in the Murray Function Room of Yawkey Center. Brought to BC by the Lowell Humanities Series and Fiction Days, Diaz discussed his two books and read unpublished drafts of his latest works.
Christopher Boucher, a professor in the English department, introduced Diaz. The two shared a past connection as Boucher met Diaz during the former's undergraduate days at Brandeis. "I've been talking him up to students as a writer who fires on all cylinders," Boucher said. What Boucher remembers most fondly, however, is the moment when Diaz offered to read Boucher's own work. "This moment speaks to his generosity personally, but also points to the generosity in his work."
Diaz began the discussion by addressing those in the crowd who came out of academic obligation. A professor in the English department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Diaz humored these audience members. "I've been battering young people all day," Diaz said. "They're like, ‘What the f—? I'm paying for this s—.' I think this opens up the possibility that the next art you see will be a little better for you, though."
Diaz segued into discussing his current work. Although in the middle of writing a second novel, he simultaneously is working on a second collection of short stories. "[Short story writing] is like eating a chicken wing," Diaz said. "A lot of work, a little wing."
His new collection focuses on stories of men cheating on women. "So much of it happens, and it's this crazy way of breaking someone up. It's really interesting," Diaz said.
Diaz read drafts of two stories, both told from a second person perspective, from his new collection. The first story, called "Alma," discussed a relationship between two polar opposites in vivid and vulgar detail. The second, untitled story focused on an infidel thrown out by his fiancee, despite his strong feelings for her. "The one time a guy will show up with a knife in your closet is if it's a rejected male," Diaz said.
A question and answer session followed the reading, and Diaz paid particular attention to discussion of how literary theory and his own background influenced his works Drown and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The novel featured a great deal of history about Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, an area ravaged by violence, and Diaz researched its lost history by having organic conversations with different Dominican subjects over a 10-year period. "These interview[s] were about seeing what atoms would leak out after spending hundreds of hours with them," Diaz said.
Diaz also wanted to give a voice to certain political issues he encountered in life. He cited feminism as one issue particularly close to his heart because of his vocal peers at Rutgers. "When I went to college, I was a straight-up moron," Diaz said. "While I was growing up, there were huge fights in the African American diaspora community about how men were represented in the books of African-American female writers. [Female writers] were letting those dudes off easy."
Offering a platform to the battered and underrepresented marked one of Diaz's greatest influences. He found great worth in a theory by Robert Smithson regarding the somewhere and the elsewhere. In Oscar Wao, he brought these two concepts to life in the settings of New York City, the ultimate somewhere, and New Jersey, the quintessential elsewhere. "The places where art is consumed is the ‘somewhere,'" Diaz said. "The best art, though, comes from the elsewheres because of all the strife at work. As an author, you're inspired by those freaks."