So who is this Junot Diaz, who is this man that I praise so highly? Junot Diaz is the Pulitzer prize winning author of the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the tale of a Dominican family and how they cope with the curses of life, love, and the past. Diaz is also the author of Drown, a collection of ten short stories that powerfully portrays the lives and times of immigrants adapting to the culture of the US. I have only read Oscar Wao, but from reading it I can say that I look forward to reading Drown. Diaz as I mentioned earlier is truly a poet of the vulgar. He challenges the proper styles of writing to create a type of novel rich with modern day cultural references, magical realism, and powerful messages. To best describe his writing style I would say that it has the intense pace of thrill of a Michael Crichton book, yet has the charm and material of a Hemmingway novel.
Seattle was fortunate enough to have this wonderful writer come through on tour and was very well received by Seattle Arts and Lectures and the sold out audience. Throughout the lecture Diaz let us peek inside his soul; he would read passages from his book and stories with a passionate narrative that was far more meaningful in emotion and narrative than just reading the text. However it would be very unfair to just call Junot Diaz a mere writer for he is also a terrific comedian. It is always wonderful to hear the social elite of Seattle giggle and shriek when a Latin man says “vulgar” words. This brings me to another point on the lecture…it wasn’t a lecture. It was more like Junot Diaz invited a bunch of people to a big room in his house for a party, and then proceeded to crack jokes and talk to people.
Even though the setting of the lecture was casual, there was some very serious talk about his book and some of the very heavy messages in it. For example in Oscar Wao both Oscar and his mother (at different times in history) are beaten in the cane fields outside of Santo Domingo. He explained how the cane field was a metaphor for the history of Dominican Republic because the three pillars of Hispaniola’s history which are slavery, genocide, and rape, all happened in the cane fields. He also went on to explain how this creates a connection between Oscar and his mother and how the tyranny of violence may always suppress a person, but never a person’s love.
Although the serious Junot was present, the lighter Junot was much more enjoyable as he openly joked about his writers block, his failed attempts at novels, his good times, rough times, and possible future projects. He talked about the possibility of Oscar Wao being turned into a movie, and hinted that Walter Salles (the director of Motorcycle Diaires) maybe attached to the project, and even made mention that his next project –in correlation to his love of the sci-fi and fantasy genres that were so expressed in Oscar Wao- might be a post apocalyptic sci-fi novel.
After the lecture I was fortunate enough to meet this man. He was filled with so much grace and friendliness; he is the epitome of the mythical person whose humility is genuine and whose friendliness is comparable to that of his humble nature; he is not the man that rocks the turtlenecks, corduroys, and a pipe, who brushes you off as another sub-being, but he is the man who looks you in the eye with sincerity and makes you his friend with a smile.
Too few are men like Junot Diaz. His oratory skills are casual yet punctual, relaxed but not sloppy. His writing is entertaining yet structural, deep but not pretentious. His personality is informal yet wise, receiving but not gushing. He is the man whose career I look forward to following, for not only do I believe he is one of the most powerful and original writers of our time, but I believe that his work just may change the face of the literary canon as we know it.