For a day that saw the tragic end of contemporary writer David Foster Wallace, a fortuitous counterbalance was found in Dallas with life expressed by author Junot Diaz. Diaz participated in a vibrant discussion of his work for the Writers Studio at the Dallas Museum of Art. His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Although he has been publishing short fiction for publications such as the New Yorker and The Paris Review for many years, Oscar Wao has brought him a buzz strong enough to land him on television programs as diverse as the Colbert Report and Charlie Rose. The Sunday afternoon buzz was no different. He managed to fill the Horchow Auditorium with fans eager to ask him questions about his writing, teaching and vulnerabilities. He didn’t disappoint.
During the first part of the program, Diaz answered questions posed by Randy Gordon, a Writers Studio interviewer, and yours truly. We talked to him about his characters who straddle the Dominican Republic and the United States. Diaz himself left the Dominican Republic at age six as his family reunited with his father in New Jersey.
His novel mixes English, Spanish, street language and Sci-Fi references that underscore the richness of people’s voices. But what he also does is to unlock what he calls the Dominican silence brought about by Rafael Trujillo’s brutal dictatorship. He does this through footnotes by having his narrator, Yunior, describe the thuggery of the regime and the cruelty towards Dominicans and neighboring Haitians. Although I still think his footnotes are informative, he quickly corrected me to say that Oscar Wao is a work of fiction, and Yunior is a trickster. Fair enough.
Diaz said that for all of the complicated literary constructs of his novel, Oscar Wao is a love story—plain and simple. And it is, with all of its terrible heartbreak.
As serious as the discussion could be, Diaz is a charmer. He’s honest and funny, and the audience couldn’t wait to have a chance to ask him questions. Folks wanted to know about his teaching at MIT, about the blank page in his life, and perhaps more life affirming…what his favorite Dominican music is. He tackled them all with pleasure.
So what can we be on the lookout for from Diaz? Well, who knows? His novel has been optioned by Miramax; he’s been working on another novel and stories, and in spite of his literary success, life has been hard this year. But as he says, life is a free gift. No doubt he’ll fill it.