Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Brief and Wondrous Book Signing with Junot Diaz

Author events usually don't get too interactive until the end when they open things up for Q&A, but Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz started out his talk last night at Politics & Prose by asking the audience for their thoughts on DC, the times we live in and living in DC in the times we live in, so that made for a much more shared experience. He was funny, even when he didn't intend to be, but also very insightful.

These aren't exact quotes, but more like my impressions of some of what was said:

On the upcoming election:
Diaz said that the fictional narratives of the political parties are so sloppy, he can't believe people are lapping it up and that even the worst genre writer couldn't write this way. And he encouraged people to keep journals of the next 50 days to have a record of what we're going through, though he added that what we're going through will help no one.

On anger:
When he started to read a second passage from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, someone asked for the page number. He said, "I refuse to reveal the page number on truculence alone." But then he did reveal it, admitting that he was a big wuss. Diaz said that ten years of failure had helped rid him of his anger and that part of growing up means you become a big wuss.

On being a writer and on expectations:
When someone asked for suggestions on how to teach parts of Oscar Wao, he said that as a writer your own work tends to elude you. This got laughs, but he meant it. Then after the questioner told how she'd teach it, he gave some other suggestions.

When someone asked why he was more "authentic" at this reading than at another at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where this person thought he had been more "polite," he said that he had gotten an 8 page letter lambasting him for cussing and being too much at that very same event. And he added that people expect writers to be the same every time, which they can't be.

On hope:
A Caucasian gentleman from Texas started talking and was eventually in tears as he relayed how his Dominican wife and children struggled at times, living in a part of the U.S. where they were not always appreciated. He said they all drew inspiration from Diaz's work, especially his 13-year old son. The tearful man asked Diaz if there was any hope for the future.

Diaz gave a wonderful impromptu speech about how people do the things they do like write books and raise children because they have hope. He said things will get better and worse. Then he talked about being of African descent and said that for hundreds of years his ancestors in the DR were bred to work, with no say in who to love and no real chance to benefit from the fruits of their labors. He said there is hope for the future, but that we are going to have to really fight for it.

And because this entry is getting long, I'll close by saying that Diaz, admitted nerd and Jersey/Dominican nationalist, answered a final question that referenced his worldview by saying that in his mind everyone on the spaceship in Star Trek is Dominican.

1 comment:

Monica said...

Yay Star Trek! I agree. Star Trek is awesome and so is the DR!

Sounds like you were inspired.