IamA junot díaz AMA!
thank you everybody for dropping by! had a swell time. hoping that you all have a great day and are reading something you love with someone you love.
junot díaz, writer, here to talk to you about anything.
by being honest and vulnerable and human and by being humble and putting her happiness over yours and most importantly by being happy yourself. but then again: you SO dont want advice from me.
thank you everybody for dropping by! hoping that you all have a great day and are reading something you love with someone you love.
Hey Junot, thanks so much for the AMA. "Oscar Wao" is my favorite book ever. For most of my life I struggled with being a lot like Oscar—a bookish Dominicanyork who lost the game he'd had in his younger days and struggled with depression. You hit the nail on the head when you said made that quip about how being a bookish boy of color in the hood is a lot like being a mutant or a superhero, and I don't think I've ever empathized with a character so much before. I've since read "Drown" (which I loved, too) and am planning to check out "This Is How You Lose Her" soon. Thanks so much for your great writing. Speaking as a Dominican-American, you're a hero of mine and I really feel we desperately need more people like you.
Now that I'm done gushing, my questions to you are: How do you feel about the rise of the rise in crime (delinquency, as everyone seems to call it) and gun violence back in the DR? My cousin was killed, along with his best friend, in 2010, and my family has since then thought things have been too unsafe (and honestly a bit traumatic, as the tragedy caused a bit of a rift in my family) to go back to. I personally haven't visited since around 2005.
You make quite a few allusions to D&D in "Oscar Wao." What's your favorite edition? Was there ever a memorable experience your character or your party had while playing the game?
Aguilas or Licey?
Have you ever thought of adapting "Oscar Wao" into a different medium, like a film or even a graphic novel? If not, why not? If so, who would you want to direct the film or handle the art?
Thanks a lot, Junot!
in the DR and other latin american/caribbean countries we talk a lot about delincuencia. what we should be talking about is inequality. economic violence from elites always leads to crazy crime on the street. and the worst the economy gets for poor folks the more desperate some of these poor folks become. im an original AD&D man myself. and i LOVED expedition to the barrier peaks.
i can barely write so i cant imagine doing anything else. thank you!
Junot! KLK?! I just happened to see that this was going on and had to come on and say a few words, even if like many of your fans I can't fully put into words what your work has meant to me. My parents came from DR (Moca/La Capital and La Vega) and I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I left when I was 18 for the Marines and served 20 years. I was the first one to get a bachelors and master's degree and never in a million years did I think I would find someone that spoke my language or to my experiences. I would go every summer to La Vega to el campo and to La Capital so I stayed in touch with my roots. When I studied International Affairs in Boulder CO I would always choose DR as my country of choice for case studies. As a result, I learned a great deal about La Patria, even more than my parents knew since they didn't get to graduate high school. That's why I was pleasantly surprised when you spoke about Trujillo and fuku and in Spanglish with no apologies in Oscar Wao. I would have been afraid that a larger audience wouldn't get it, but I'm glad you did it anyway. Anyway, my sister Cindy Cosma turned me on to your work because she met you very early on in your career and I've since bought like a dozen of your books to give away to friends and evangelize them. When you won the Pullitzer I felt like I won it, or at least a very close cousin did. Keep it up. Estamos orgullosisimo de ti hermano. Que Dios te bendiga y te deseamos todo lo mejor... Sorry for babbling : )
edwin dario, thank you. for reals.
What is it like teaching creative writing at a STEMmy school like MIT?
Thank you so much for what you do, by the way. Oscar was the most important book that I read last year.
i love defending art in places where art is not seen as central. america and mit share a lot in common in this respect.
Thank you for being one of the most ass-kickingly heartfelt, honest, hilarious, and lyrical writers in modern fiction.
Two words: Monstro. When?
no idea. going to take forever.
I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how someone can stop the blindesss their privilege encourages. In particular, white male suburbanites.
Thanks for all the awesome books!
we all need to interrogate our blindness around our privilege and its an internal process that is often well abetted by books and by thinkers. no way you can read some bell hooks as a man and not have your privilege checked. i think one needs to focus on the process and be honest and read/travel/experience and soon it begins. and if youre lucky it wont stop.
Hi there! I don't really have any questions, but I just wanted to say I love your work and was waiting the whole day to read this (it's almost 11.30pm in my side of the world). I'm an aspiring writer and your work is very inspiring.
Thank you for your amazing writing!
thank you! you are kind to hang tough here. you keep going, we need you!
If one of your friends happened to raid your personal/home library, how long would it take you before you noticed it was missing?
about 30 minutes. my eyes roam ceaselessly over my books. im always looking for a way out of my current narrative problems.
Hi Junot, I literally just finished Oscar Wao this week, and have been shouting its praises from rooftops to all who will listen. It has more than earned its place on my "desert island top 10" list.
If I said that Oscar's death was his self-sacrifice to end the family's Fuku, would that be more or less true?
i think that's what he hoped. that it would allow for all their seperate stories to come together.
How long did it take you to get an agent?
i more or less won the lottery and got an agent almost as soon as i tried. but i wasnt very professional about it. met and accepted the first agent that crossed my path. she was super young too and had no real authors under her belt. nowadays a lot of young writers want superstars as agents but what i stumbled on was a very useful truth: better an agent with energy and the time to pay attention to you than someone who is too busy to give you the energy you merit.
Hey Junot! Not a question, but I'm currently a student at MIT and a cousin of two friends of yours from Rutgers (Eunice and Patria) They would kill for me to take a photo with you and send it to them. Lets arrange this, tigré!
claro! hit me at my mit email
What is your revision process like? Do you write the first draft completely before going back to tweak it?
i write so many drafts its not funny. ill work on a story for ten, 15 years. like the last tale in THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER. i started that shit in 1996
You write about a typical emotionally unavailable man in This Is How You Lose Her. When he obviously doesn't want to be that way. Do you have a bridge for how he can resurface into intimacy? Why is this man's psychology so important to the Latino community?
masculinity is one of the biggest social forces impacting all of our communities. men, unhealthy, diassociated men, do a lot of damage across the board. this is why raising healthy boys matters.
Oh hi Junot Diaz, do you still have the sneaker painting I gave you?
damn! i think that's in storage with all the rest of my treasures.
No question here. Just wanted to say I'm a big fan and you are an inspiration. Much love from a fellow Dominican!
Have to ask this one:
Are you working on a new NOVEL?
i am and its going badly. no other news, sorry.
You had a lot of difficulty writing Oscar Wao. How many different reiterations of Oscar Wao did you go through? How much research did you undergo to write the portions of the novel which took place in Trujillo’s reign of terror? Was this prior knowledge or on the fly research while writing Wao? If you were to recommend literature about this era, what would you suggest (besides Feast of the Goat)?
I understand you jumped straight into an MFA after completing your BA at Rutgers. How would you describe your experience at Cornell University? Was it helpful to your success, or were you successful despite your time there? How has your experience teaching fiction in an academic setting (MIT) compared to your work with mentoring the students at VONA?
You’ve mentioned in a recent Salon interview that the literary apparatus of this country still exists in the 1950s. Who are among the writers now that you believe are writing the literary apparatus that exists with a contemporary outlook? What do you suggest aspiring writers should consider to keep pushing past the lag occurring in this country’s current literary apparatus?
Edit: In case you can't tell, I've been preparing for this all morning.
For Oscar Wao I did a ton of research. I hit the archives nonstop and read as much as I could from the period. Some of the work of the loathsome Joaquin Balaguer and the formidable Juan Bosch were part of the equation. and of course pedro verges monumental Sólo cenizas hallarás, which takes place right after the fall of trujillo.
as for cornell . . . that was tough. i was very isolated and it didnt feel all that welcoming for a young kid of color coming from a poor community. I wrote DROWN while i was there and got involved in a Latino student movement that was wildly successful. by the end of it we got six faculty hires in latino studies and a latino living center. but i wouldnt want to go back up to ithaca again to live. too cut off and isolated and white for a jersey kid like me. im used to way more diversity. even boston is more diverse than that.
I just read This Is How You Lose Her and I loved it. You write such beautiful and realistic dialogue. Do you have a process for writing such natural exchanges? Or do you just have an ear for language? Do you have any tips on how to write dialogue?
i actually write as little dialogue as possible because i dont think im that good at it. but i do repeat all my dialogue over at least a 100 times aloud and that helps keep the corny out.
So you have created amazing characters in your books. I was wondering who some of your favorite fictional characters are.
i love milkman from SONG OF SOLOMON and lilith from octavia butler's DAWN and the brothers from hijuelo's OUR HOUSE IN THE LAST WORLD. and nausicaa from miyazaki's manga. and of course tetsuo from AKIRA.
No questions here, Junot, but now that I finally have the chance to say this:
Thank you for your books. I have re-bought Drown gazillions of times because I keep giving them away to my friends. Your books have honestly saved my life, and -- as a young Filipina American -- helped me find my own voice as a writer. Also, thank you for all of the social justice links you post on FB. Thank you thank you thank you so much.
my pinay friend! thank you!
Hi Junot! I'm a student at Rutgers and I'm having some difficulty with expository writing... Can you give me any advice?
i always say find your writing center and get those folks to give you a ton of guidance and with all things--work hard at it. it gets easier.
I dropped out of college [In Boston] a few years back because I found it really unsatisfying and because I felt like I was being pushed (and pushing myself) through a major I really didn't want to peruse. What I really would like to do is study English and Creative Writing because I think that's where my real talent might lie, or if not talent, at least satisfaction.
But there's been a lot of debate recently about the value of the Humanities and English in college curriculums, and how many collages are cutting back because they no longer see the value of such programs.
Do you have any suggestions for someone who is on the fence about pursuing English and wants to make a go of writing?
if your mindset is about business: humanities doesnt make money, it makes humans and business has never liked humans. if your mindset is human, humaniities makes perfect sense because its about making you a better human. as a writer i majored in history and wrote. one doesnt have to major in writing or english to be a writer. its often better to have other materials rattling around in your head.
Would you be open to (short or feature-length) film adaptations of your stories? Why or why not?
What would your superpower be? And your superhero name? :D
i guess i would. i would like to trust the director though. if i had a superpower it would be teleportation. (i love to travel and loath airports.) name: Thousand Masks. for no reason other than i love Mil Mascaras.
Que lo que! I am an NJ high school teacher of Dominican students who are learning English. Which of your stories, essays, or an excerpt do you think would be most interesting for them to read?
try: how to date a browngirl, blackgirl, whitegirl or halfie
I too, have nothing of value to add. I just want you to know I love your work and you are the one thing that brought me and the love of my life together.
I couldn't keep her, sadly. I never could with the others either. But when the loneliness struck, it was good to know you were there.
good luck. it passes. i learned the only thing you can do is be kind to yourself. which is harder than it looks
Junot! I looove you man. Ive live here in Lima my whole life, im a woman. I love/hate to write, and you know, I want to use this opportunity to tell you
how much you rock, (you already know this)
Ive seen all of the videos of your readings in Youtube, and that has restore my faith in writers. Most of them, at least here, are pretencious assholes, and I dont wanna have to do anything with them, but at the same time Ive received good feedback. My question would be if you would recommend me to apply for an scholarship (thats the only way I could go) to NYU to the Creative Writing in Spanish program. Ive heard you say you dont like hanging with other writers cause you start to compete and writing for them instead for readers, but I also know you yourself have a MFA. What would you recommend? ( im such a dork I dont think I could have my heart broken in three different countries)
I have another question for you. Ive heard you talk passionately about latino community. and its funny, me being peruvian, living all my life here in Lima, I dont have a sense of latino, that, by contrast, I think gets stronger for latinos in the US. Here in the 60s, 70s, there was kind of a literary discussion wich debated if literature should, as an ethical obligation, be about classism, racism, native populations, social topics. Mario Vargas Llosa and cia were of course there, at the beggingng. I know you're an activist. Do you think latino writers should address those themes? as oppose to the shift that's been going on, I dont know if I should call it "postmodern" or somethign, you know, more and more people/writers return to their inner worlds, subjectivity, feelings and such (I myself think Im in that bunch). So... yeah, what do you think should be the role of latino writers or literature in that aspect.
oh and I also wanted to say, that I write short stories, and a lot of them were from a first person male perspective. I saw one of your readings in Youtube, and my eyes were opened when you said how hard it was for you to write from a female perspective and that society has trained us to believe only men have subjectivity, but not women. And I was like wow, man. Maybe that's the reason I unnecessarily pushed myself into writing from a male point of view and I hadnt even noticed. I thought if I write this shit from a female perspective nobody will think is believable... Why wouldnt my female perspective be both "weird" and female right? I just wanted you to know, you opened my eyes to some of the invisible strings that surrounded me, and of course now im working on changing some of the voices on my writing. Thanks for all, you so rock, I know you kinda hate being around writers, but you know, they cant be all the same pretencious assholes, right? At least Im not! Its awesome to finally have like some figure to be inspired by, that's so authenthic and simple and frank and real, which I can finally relate to. Gracias por todo <3 (and please excuse my english)
1 thank you 2 why not? if you can get funding it sounds like youre ready to go. also remember: an MFA is a strategy, not a way of life. get that mfa if you can but then live your own life that doesnt depend on hanging around with professionalized writers all day long. that's my advice. you asked so there it is.
3 i dont think a writer needs to address ANY themes. you do what you want. but when you come to nyc for a couple of years i think you'll begin to see these we never see in our home countries or see it all differently.
4 listen hermana im glad i could help. your female voices . .. what you avoid . . you need to dive in. therein lies your art, i think. good luck, let us know if you make it to nyc! my best friend arlene teaches there, boricua, awesome ally!
I recently read Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" and it left quite an impression; it was funny, sad and insightful all at once.
The protagonist Junior's sister Mary particularly intrigued me, and I thought of Lola from "Oscar Wao" for some reason. If you've read Alexie's book -- what would Lola say to Mary, if she could?
she's probably ask her what's shes reading
What makes you smile? Like a full blown, koolaid type of smile.
kids make me smile, straight up KoolA. and when the plane lands in santo domingo. that nearly sprains my face, that smile.
I don't have any questions...just wanted to say I annotated Oscar for my dad so he could understand it. It was fun.
awesome! thank you! there's also this http://www.annotated-oscar-wao.com/
I haven't read any of your short stories or books. What kind of things do you write and what is a good starting point to begin your work?
i write about young men with cracked hearts in NJ and the Dominican Republic and a couple of other things as well. try this is how you lose her and go from there.
As a resident of Edison, New Jersey, I have to ask, what made you pick Edison for your short story?
i have a great fondness for edison. nearby rutgers and emblematic of the ridiculous deep small city diversity that NJ is famous for.
I loved reading Oscar Wao and am looking forward to more of your writings.
So my friend and I were discussing that how in Oscar Wao, the footnotes form an integral part of the story - to the extent that sometimes it becomes difficult to tell what is the story and what is the footnote. There are not a lot of authors who use footnotes in their works per se (David Foster Wallace is one that comes to mind) What did you have in mind while adding these footnotes to your book?
i had in mind the writer patrick chamoiseau and the fact that footnotes tend to be used to extend authority. i wanted to use them to disrupt it.
Can you talk about the influence of women in your life?
raised by my mom and her two sisters. i was the youngest aunt irma's favorite. and my grandmother. had two sisters of my own. and one of those kids, like oscar, who started falling in love with girls really young but who also saw girls as possible friends and mentors outside of the lover paradigm. i dont think id be an artist if it wasnt for the women in my life. for my universisty mentors etc. they more or less gave me my project, my remit, they helped initiate me into my calling.
Noam Chomsky: yay or nay?
i like to think people are more complicated than Y o N but in brief id say Y, way up
Dear Junot, you are my favorite writer. I got to meet you at a signing last year and I almost puked on you, in admiration. I re-read "Alma" at least a few times a year because it's so damn good. Now, a serious question for you:
Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?
thank you and id just run! no fighting for me!
How do you pronounce your first name?
Joo (rhymes with Chew) Know. More or less.
First, thanks for writing such magnificent pieces of work. I would have never read your books if not for my wife. Two questions: What's it like when you get noticed out on the street? My wife,Judi, wants to know how you like your café..
im painfully shy in real life so its awkward. i drink it blank
Hola again Junot,
Yunior from Drown deeply autobiographical. Is the Yunior from Oscar Wao the same one or is the name just a preference? Who is Rafa? You mentioned having sisters but no brothers so I'm curious
same yunior all the way through. i have a brother named rafa too.
What are some short story collections you'd recommend to those people who are averse to reading short stories? Ones that would definitely change their mind about the genre.
TE HOLT in the valley of the kings dennis jonson's Jesus Son. maxine hong kingston (memoir) Woman Warrior. Edward P Jones Lost in the CIty Sandra Cisneros Woman Hollering Creek Sherman Alexie Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Octavia Butler's BloodChild and Other Stories Ted Chiang Stories of You rlife
I love your work, and I actually used an excerpt from Drown yesterday as a demo-lesson for a job interview..I got the job! Thanks!
Anyway, I was thinking about pursuing my PhD. My original BA was in Creative Writing, and my Master's degree is in Education. Would I be better of pushing forward with the education PhD or going the creative writing route? Obviously i like both but which one will give me the best chance to be a college professor based on the current and future markets?
i think its all about the funding and the status these phd. if you can stand the phd you might as well go for it. sure there are a lot of them on the market but way more mfas . . . but make sure youre getting fully funded . . otherwise be cautious about the debt
As someone who hasn't read your work, what would you recommend I start with?
all the books work well as introductions. drown is the darkest. oscar the wildest. how you lose her the closest.
I have loved Your work ever since I read "How to date a Brown Girl..." in the New Yorker, which I guess was quite a while ago. I am pretty sure it made me gasp. You have such an amazing, distinctive voice, I admit I was surprised that such work showed up in the New Yorker. I was clearly underestimating the New Yorker. Anyway, as someone who loves short stories, probably more than novels these days, I wonder if You think the short story is somehow undersold by the publishing industry or the media, such that short story collections seldom make best-seller lists. What would it take for a short story to make it big? Apart from being made into a movie first....
if we go by the numbers people just seem to love novels. but that doesnt mean that short stories aint the real deal. right now reading is struggling and people are making cuts and unfortunately too many are cutting short stories and poetry and essays. i hope that changes one day.
I'm a big fan of your work. Thanks for stopping by.
Like a million other people I"m an aspiring writer. My question is how do you balance theme/story in a nuanced way? I feel that a lot of times in my quest to explore my themes, I end up on quasi-philosophical rants instead of treating the subject matter in a subtle manner. Any tips for fixing that?
Also, do you plan on reading Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon?
Thanks again, it's an honor.
i do plan on reading the pynchon. just keep trying to rein it in. eventually you wont sound so forced. practice really does it
Got to chat with you for a brief moment at a university about Street Fighter. Probably changed my life. For the better? Not sure yet.
Keep being one of the good guys.
love me some SF!
Hi, Junot. I enjoyed "This Is How You Lose Her" very much. Nilda cemented itself in my head for a while, man. It still comes back to me in jagged icy fragments when I'm on the train back home or other mundane everyday-life moments when I'm most free to let my mind wander particularly. The last line of the story, as well as the pacing (incredibly great rhythm to it), hit especially hard. Maybe it resonated so well with me because I've grown up with a few Nildas and, in my early 20s, continue to meet a few damaged, lost-in-the-world, Nilda-esque girls still...and I tend to feel sad and a bit haunted for them. Anyways, your story brought those feelings to life on the page as I read Nilda and I wanted to thank you for that because that is the true power of literature--the symbiosis between reader and writer.
Quick question, I was back home this past winter from school and had the wonderful opportunity to hear you speak in Amherst, MA. You mentioned how many young writers are viewing writing through the lens of a career-track or within the realm of the Linked-In universe (I'm paraphrasing). Essentially, the topic was that many young aspiring writers view their craft as a job, a task that will end is $$$ signs. I am a 22 year old recent graduate trying to find food pellets from the universe and one of those sources of nourishment from the cosmos is reading literature and writing. What advice would you give to someone who has seriously thought about pursuing an MFA in creative writing--even though it may not lead to a stable source of income afterwards--and is juggling their passion with the economically rational route of settling with a stable job and writing, since it's something they love, and trying to get published in their free time?
i think one cant ask too much of their writing. if you ask it to pay the bills that's a lot of pressure. some people can live under that pressure. many of us cant. its point of view thing really. i was prepared to have a regular job and write by night. it was a miracle that what happened to me happened. point is while youre waiting for a miracle you got to keep your writing not feeling pressure--that's when it does its magic best. and wanting it to save us economically or otherwise is a LOT of pressure. how this can help i dont know but there it is.
Hello Junot! I love all your books, obviously you have had a great response from your book here in the United States but how have you seen the Reaction of the books in DR and Latin America in general?
tough to say. some positive, some negative and most people dont know anything about your work.
Hi, Junot! Thank you for sharing your talents with us. I've read each of your books, Oscar Wao being my favorite.
Some months ago, I was considering applying for grad school to get my M.A. in English (with a concentration in Latino(a) literature, but being underemployed, student loans, etc. ultimately discouraged me from pursuing that dream right now. My application essay was going to focus on Oscar, specifically focusing on the references and elements of science fiction ever present throughout the novel, and how closely it related to the Gothic genre (not really Southern Gothic, though (Sorry, Mark Twain)); thus proving that it can be considered an 'American' novel.
Is my English major brain making up odd conclusions or do you see correlations within this particular work to the Gothic genre?
Also, how do you like Chicago?
actually im obsessed with the gothic. but id argue oscar wao is an example of the Post colonial gothic. and the haunted house is the diaspora. if you were my mentee, id say read about PC gothic, rewrite the paper and apply to a phd where there is funding. MA's are moneymakers for the schools but they dont do much for you. phd's there s often a lot more funding.
Hi! I just wanted to say first that I really, really love your writing. My term paper last year was actually on the roots and use of linguistic code changing in your work. That being said, how much goes into creating that lexicon? Does it come naturally or does it take some experimenting to get the sound totally right?
endless experimenting. way too much i sometimes think. but that's because im slow.
Hi Junot, thanks for doing this.
I’ve been troubling myself lately about the character of Pura. On the one hand, she’s so ruthless and conniving, that it’s almost easy to forget that the real “monster” is Rafa. On the other, as "campesina," her upbringing makes Yunior's look glamorous, and maybe ruthless was the only way for her to eke out a life. As readers, how do we balance our desire to pass judgment on characters with our obligation to take a full view of what they're up against?
(Maybe the same concern arises with Yunior: I find my students often want to package him as a jerk, while I'm trying to push them to consider his models for masculinity, his status as outsider, etc. But after a certain number of stories, don't we all eventually want to take him to task for his repeated falls?)
always easier to take characters in literature to task than ourselves. its standard: we are so judgmental of others but of ourselves we're easy. i dont think Yunior is any worse than the average person. we just hide our mistakes, yunior bears witness to them. the question always is to the students: how honest are YOU about your errors and flaws?
pura, like paloma in MISS LORA, understands well the men she's dealing with. and 'gets hers.' we can judge her too but what matters most for me is connecting with her and seeing ourselves in her actions.
Good morning Junot. As a woman who has been deeply touched by the hero Oscar Wao and having read the other male protagonists in Drown and This is How You Lose Her, I'm always left feeling as though I've fallen through a weak spot in the floor of male stereotypes, stumbling into a deeper, more complex area of the male psyche after reading your stories. I find myself wondering what you hope women will draw from your portrayals of men. Care to elaborate?
that was always the hope. i wanted to draw a more profound map of the kind of male psyches i grew up with, these hidden subjectivities. not just so we can understand them but so we perhaps can begin to talk about how we change them.
I watched a video with you where you said it took 10 years to write Oscar Wao. At any point did you feel like just throwing in the towel? How many rewrites did it take to get to a point where you felt contended with the story?
Oh, and thanks for being awesome!
oh man. i almost quite a dozen times. actually more than that. here's a little piece i wrote about it which will answer it better than i can here. (hate to do this but i figure it would be more efficient.)
How does your non-fiction writing influence your fiction? I couldn't help but notice the amount of factual context in Oscar Wao - what literary effect do you think this creates, especially towards the (dramatic, magical) ending?
like many, i always though a little of the real goes a long way in a project thats almost all fake.
hey man, thanks for doing this. i am a white girl who would like to shut up and listen more to what life is about for people who don't look like me. your books have been amazing in helping me do that. who are other awesome POC writers you might recommend?
arundhati roy god of small things. patrick chamoiseau. edwidge danticat. noviolet bulawayo. maxine hong kingston (memoir) Woman Warrior. Edward P Jones Lost in the City Sandra Cisneros Woman Hollering Creek Sherman Alexie Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Octavia Butler's BloodChild and Other Stories Ted Chiang Stories of Your Life
Hi! I'm an up and coming writer and want to put a blend of pop culture and immigrant fiction in my stories. Do you have some tips?
hard to say: dont know the work. i didnt try to do any of that until i master the elemental forces that rule fiction. i knew that if i started bell and whistling before i had the wheels on the car the whole thing would fall apart.
Hola Junot, I met you last year at a reading but you probably didn't understand anything I babbled, I was so nervous. I love your work! Thanks for giving PoC a voice in a place where we often get drowned out.
As soon as I brush up on my Spanish, I'm going to DR. Fave secrets spots?
Also, my boyfriend is Haitian but he loves you (he introduced Oscar Wao to me). Can you two be friends?
you are so kind. i love the whole DR. your map will be as good as mine im sure. (but def check out the free concerts in the city if you can.) id be glad to be friends with anyone who would have me!
Thank you so much for doing this. You really are such an inspiration for me. I’ve been lending your books to all my friends since I started reading your work, safe to say you have a few new fans!
My question for you concerns the concept of loneliness in your works and how/why you keep revisiting (or so it seems when I read these novels) moments of missed connection, of unintentional self-isolation. There is always a current of bittersweet loneliness in all of Junior’s narration, as well as in the other characters and their ability to engage or interact with one another. Is that loneliness something you are trying to draw attention to as problematic for individuals with an immigrant experience like Junior’s or do you think this is a more universal theme, more emblematic of the average young adult’s experience with North American urban life? What brings you back to tropes of loneliness and urban isolation?
Thank you again for doing this AMA!
i always pictured yunior as being very alone and figured that would be a perfectly existential commonplace to launch a character from. we all know loneliness and living with it is one of our challenges. immigration of course isolates too and so i figured with this one trait i could touch on a lot of things.
1.Mario Vargas LLosa: 1-10? 2.what would the title of your life story be called? 3.is it challenging to to dialogue with MIT students, who are intellects, yet socially inhibited? can they relate to some of your writings? stories? 4. If not at MIT, what other institution of higher learning would you want to teach in? 5. Apart from DR what is one of your favorite places to visit in the world? 6. Columbus: savage murderer? agree? 7. have you traveled to Cuba yet? 8. want you to write short cliffhangin stories.. chapter books.. a series.. have a wonderful week
MLV: depends on book. life story? You didnt do what you said you would. i love my MIT kids. theyre just young and like to pretend they know it all. just like the rest of us. i dont teach my work to them. have traveled to cuba. its beautiful and a police state and its easy to focus on one or the other but you got to focus on both for it to make sense. i love tokyo. etc
Race plays a big factor in your writing. In this short 3.5 minute video on youtube you talk about the effects of colonialism and how white supremacy is inextricably linked with economics. What if the richest and poorest people reflected the racial demographics perfectly? Would this actually make the situation better in Santo Domingo?
i would say race plays a big factor in our world. im just reporting it. and to be honest what's going to help a place like the DR or the US is economic justice, real economic justice.
I'm actually from New Brunswick and studying at Rutgers. Your books have been like my life (more like my environment.) I wonder how many girls you bagged here? Lol keep it real my dude. Can't wait for the next book
timelord: all i will say is that RU was some for-real shit. harvard/MIT/princeton/yale might be the new york city of schools for academics but in my time rutgers was the new york city of schools for life.
I recently graduated from college with a BA in English. You were my favorite author to read. I felt the most comfortable with your style. It was really clear, and inspired me to write creatively.
My professor had us listen to an interview you did on NPR and walked us through it telling us which parts of the interview were racist. I thought that was kind of funny.
yikes! and thanks.
Do you read Japanese literature and what is your favorite author or book?
i do! of course i love murakami but im also a huge fan of Natsuo Kirino (OUT is magnificent) and Hitomi Kanehara's Snakes and Earrings. And Taichi Yamada's books are all amazing (especially Strangers) and of course Yoko Ogawa is a fave of mine.
long time reader, first time caller. i love your Latino social commentary - terms like "alternatinas" that you use. im curious about Latinos in different parts of the US and how we can be different in the creative arts. in your travels across the US, have you noticed any striking differences among Latinos - like how we receive/respond to your work? are there any waves of Latino writers/subjects you find interesting? whenever i look up books on my kindle i cant find many Latino writers other than international writers - but I want to connect to my US Latino culture more - works like yours.
When will you come to Los Angeles? happy hispanic/latino heritage month!
we are incredibly diverse. i aint seen but 1% of my community if that so its hard to generalize. over all we just need more artists of all kind and more spaces where we as a community can begin to understand ourselves. the average latino gets like no education on what her community might even look like and so we're stuck bandying around the same old small ideas about who we might be or not. if every latino had a couple of years of ethnic studies courses we'd be in a different place id argue.
four years ago, you yelled at me for a question i asked over a livefeed during a speech you gave at colgate university. just wanted you to know that I still remember that, and still appreciate it.
god i yelled? that sucks. please forgive.
Love your work, and I know you're a voracious reader. Wondering if you've burned through all the "classic" dictator novels in preparation of writing Oscar Wao. Particularly like Autumn of the Patriarch, or Feast of the Goat, or Massacre River, etc. Was the fiction also part of the research you did?
yup. for me the novels had in places a bigger hand than even the 'history books.'
In what ways is it important to your idea of Yunior's character that he be considered our writer as well as our narrator? On the one hand it shows him responsibly engaged with history, with his friends, and with his own growth. On the other, as you (or he) point out in Wao, the writer and the dictator perform similar roles, and as readers, we might be wary of Y.'s seductive perspective. ("I'm not a bad guy...")
its a way for me to comment on the way we use stories to make ourselves and also to unmake. its also a way for me to show that storytelling isnt always just a Good. It can be sinister too.
junot, you were/are at my school (UPS) and just wanted to thank you for coming by again. i read oscar wao last year and just finished reading fiesta 1980 this week in another spanish class. ive really enjoyed your writing and look forward to reading more of your works.
Other than the ones mentioned explicitly in TBWLOOW, what are your favourite comic books and why?
Mister X. Nexus. i like noir and i like rude's art and barron's exploration of the real cost of power in Nexus.
You spoke about Cornell in a previous answer, but if your experience wasn't good, then what do you recommend to someone looking to get their MFA in creative writing (as far as what too look for in a school)? I'm applying in December and I'm all over the place when it comes to where I really want to go.
shoot, sometimes what we need to do for ourselves aint fun or worth repeating. i think an mfa is a good idea if you've lived a while and if you aint paying. then it dont matter WHERE it is. youre there for work. and it might suck but the results will be positive in the end.
I read somewhere that many of the students in your MIT class have no idea that you're a famous author. Do you like the relative anonymity? Or are you somewhat surprised/disappointed that they haven't bothered to connect the dots?
i love anonymity. why else would i want to spend 3-16 years locked up in a room writing! thank you!
No specific question right now, but I saw you speak at UAlbany last year, and you were an incredible guy to listen to and learn from. Thank you so much for taking time to speak to young writers and young people in general. You're a wonderful inspiration!
Yo Junot! Very happy to see this AMA . I found that Oscar Wao drew a lot of parallels to the identity struggle of many first generation minority Americans. I found a lot of the interaction between Oscars family, mirrored my own upbringing in a Vietnamese family attempting to assimilate into American culture, whilst holding onto old tradition. Growing up as a kid in Jersey, how difficult, if at all, was it in trying to balance and maintain 2 different cultures in your life?
well its not like this is encouraged in our culture. in fact our culture tends to despise that kind of complexity. and then there's the self hate we face as people of color that devalues our home culture over the US one. its a challenge but one you have to confront in order to achieve any kind of 'authenticity' as a person, in order to live in a complete sort of way.
Hi Junot, firstly I wanted to thank you for your work. Being a Latino immigrant myself I identify with your stories and the way you go about relating them. I wanted to take you back to Drown, the first book I got from you nearly 15 years ago, are any if those stories autobiographical in any way? Who are you on those stories?
And lastly what books are you reading these days?
drown was a profoundly autobiographical book. yunior, yunior, yunior. and im reading Hilton Als WHITE GIRLS
Is there a book you have read that has been influential in your life, not necessarily your writing?!
of course. the autobiography of malcom x. read it young and it transformed me
I am a Latino kid - Dominican/Puerto Rican from Union City - doing philosophy, which is a mostly White male dominated discipline. When you were at Cornell, did you feel like you were walking on eggshells? That is, if you messed up it would leave a bigger mark on you than it would your "White" colleagues?
Do you write daily?
By the way, thanks for writing. With the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I found a protagonist that I could really relate to in ways that I hadn't been able to through other books.
one is made to feel an outsider always in settings like these. courage and community and faith is what we have. i learned to relieve the pressure by reminding myself ive survived worse than cornell. and so have you.
We can't wait to see you in Boston!
ill be in jamaica plain oct 25 http://www.jpreads.org/ and up in porter books in cambridge on nov 7 http://www.portersquarebooks.com/
What music is currently in heavy rotation on your ipod?
Laura Mvula. Valerie June. and those new Drake cuts. just so i have something to talk to my goddaughter camila about.
I loved Oscar Wao, would you be open for a TV Series based on the book? I feel like a movie just wouldn't go as much in-depth as TV Series would.
Would you have any interest in visiting for example Iceland? It has a culture so different from the classic hispanic culture.
I would also like to say that I love your work, Oscar Wao is one of my favourite books and I really liked This is How You Lose Her.
ive been to iceland twice! once right after the worst break up of my life. i spent that trip running through the rain, taking in reykjavik, went with my best friend shuya. had a blast. a tv series would be fine but boy it would have to be well done
How do you come up with the characters you write? Is there a process or do they more or less come to you? Also, do you feel sympathetic towards Yunior at all, or is he a bad guy after all?
i think yunior is human. he's weak and flawed but who isnt.
my characters are the people that stay with me the longest and in their staying they change to be their own original hearts.
Hey Junot Diaz, have you read any Chester Himes at all? Secondly, where does the name Junot come from?
i have! so disturbing and good. its a french last name. half my island is french colonized so go figure.
There are some critiques that you haven't capture female characters as well as your male characters (Although I think you did a great job with Lola and Beli in Oscar Wao) Why do you think that is?
i can accept that. though i would argue its yunior's inability to see women fully that keeps him from being human. and the question would also be: did i capture the woman narrator of OTRA VIDA, OTRA VEZ? i think i did an ok job. so what might i be saying as an artist, if i can clearly do women to a certain level, if im writing about a guy who cant see them well. there's a difference between what i can capture as a writer and what my narrator's can and in that gap lies the meaning of the book, or at least one of them.
Thanks for showing up for the date with all of us. We would have hated being stood up. :) I have started reading your books after stumbling upon the enormous treasure of M.Silverblatt interviews. I loved them, your frank language and I watched all 1584 hours of your interviews/lectures on youtube (Probably more time than I spent listening to L.Cohen!) and first question, does your back still hurt? Are you interested in writing about some things that youre not very familiar about? For example, writing about a community other than your own? Moving somewhere, familiarizing with the culture, and eventually write about it, like for example, Llosa did? Could you tell us about some of the things you like to do? Any peculiar hobby or interest? Are you growing organic tomatoes, learning italian, visiting manicurist? there has to be something! :)
Greetings from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
hello friend! my back sucks. i do hope to write about other areas and times but we'll see. i love to travel (favorite cities: el DF de Mexico, Bogota, Tokyo, Amsterdam). i go to movies and plays a lot. and honestly the writing takes up a lot of time.
Ok, last question, I finished the Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao around the same time Jose Pimentel (the "Dominican Terrorist") was turned in by his mother. I was intrigued by the mother-son relationship that was significant in your novel but also the fact that someone who was largely invisible to most people had then become the new "face of terrorism." This for me coincided with your novel, which finally gave a voice to a similar group of individuals. I just wanted to know what your thoughts were on this, if you had any. here is an article http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/11/new-york-terror-suspect-jose-pimentel.html
i remember when that happened clearly. a friend of mine said: always a dominican in the mix. for real, right. but i havent thought on it enough to add anything else. really sorry.
I find your work very inspiring, what was the motivation process behind Oscar Wao?
i wanted to write about that generation of dominican nerds who went to college. who came up poor and from immigrant families and yet ended up in college. lola. oscar. yunior. and i wanted to connect those extraordinary lives to their deep history of dictatorship and oppression.
Hi Mr. Díaz! I greatly admire your fiction and the perspectives you bring to your interviews. You also edit the Boston Review, of course, and I'm curious about that aspect of the work you do. When you read submissions do the stories you then publish announce themselves on a first reading? Do you know a story you want to put out there when you read it or is it much more complicated? Thanks!
stories have to stay with me for at least a week. sometimes one knows right away but the week rule helps.
If Oscar had a theme song, what would it be? Yunior's? Lola's?
before rutgers. hmmmm, probably for oscar joy division's transmission.
yunior: my uzi weights a ton.
lola: radio clash.
after rutgers: lola: joe arroyo no pegue la negra. yunior: black steel in the hour of chaos oscar: monchy y alexandra hojan en blanco
Would you say the fucu is still doing damage and the way to stop it has not been found in DR?
simply put: yes.
What music were you listening to when you were a teenager?
Who are Oscar and Yunior's favorite musicians? I always thought Oscar would like David Bowie and 70's prog rock, but I know I'm probably way off.
i was listening to New Order, Joy Division, the Clash, Big Daddy Kane, Special Ed, Afrika Bambaataa.
as for oscar . . . that's a great question . . . david bowie yes but also The Cure. and Metallica! early Metallica for oscar.
yunior is hiphop and merengue. JLGuerra a Anthony Santos etc. y los hermanos rosario y raulin . .
- What's next for Junot Díaz?
- What, if anything, changed about your life after the success of Oscar Wao and how did you deal with it?
- What's a subject you really want to discuss or advice you really want to give that nobody's yet asked a question about?
Thanks for posting this AMA. Like so many others, I was deeply touched by your work when I read it.
more writing. its become harder to find time to work. i just want to keep reading. and stay in the conversation that will lead to more a equitable society.
Hi, Junot! I met you briefly as you signed my copy of This Is How You Lose Her at the NYPL. You're a very entertaining speaker, BTW, shy or not. Love the ENERGY of your writing! My daughter goes to Ithaca College, her friend to Cornell. Just wondering what years you were in Cornell and whether you've been back there to speak (sounds like you haven't from the way you describe your time there).
been back a few times. i think i have to go there sometime this year or next. i dont hate cornell or ithaca. my time there was just hard. so its not personal.
As a bilingual author, is it difficult to incorporate Spanish into your texts? And do you think knowing two languages has helped you in your profession?
language is the great strength of a writer. the more language you have the better. so having two is even better than one. but you still have to work to make it work esppecially when neither language seems to like the other too much.
Loved Drown/Oscar Wao/This Is How You Lose Her!
Whatcha reading right now? What authors, aside from yourself, would you recommend?
What advice do you give to your students?
Best/worst parts about being a prize-winning author?
THANKS for the AMA!!
hilton als: WHITE GIRLS is the shit. also reading edwidge danticat's CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT.
i just dont have enough time to read and write but who does?
as for my students: i try to get them to resist the fear that is pervasive in the culture.
What is your favorite pastry?
i like me some pie for certain. fruit pie.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in bringing gender equality awareness to Afro-Caribbean cultures? And how do you, as a Dominican man, challenge notions of sexism?
same forces as ever: patriarchy. heteronormativity. misogyny. capitalism. one does what one can--start within and on the outside: organize and raise awareness and organize.
Hi Junot! NEWYORICANGIRL here. I just self-published my first book and launched it at La Casa Azul last weekend. What advice do you have for your fellow Hispanic author? Friendly agents, marketing, affinity groups? Would you be willing to mentor me?
sister, i wish i could but time is always absent. id def apply to agents. there's a ton of lists floating around there. and honestly La Casa Azul is the best resource we got these days.
You mentioned earlier in the thread that it takes you 10-15 years to develop parts of a story. Do you keep every writing project separate and just keep adding and revising?!
i keep tinkering. which kinda shows you how lame i am.
Love your work. There's a lot of personal experience from the work from your own experience and those of others. How much would you say comes from your own personal experiences?
Also, do women that read your work view you differently?
i assume women read it a lot differently. theyre the ones who often have had to deal most directly with the kind of men i write about. they often have to make lives with these type of jerks, ,are the front-liners, we might say. im not sure a whole lot comes from my life. but enough.
So, how do you keep her?
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