Junot Díaz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and is the author of Drown, This is How You Lose Her, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which won the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, African Voices, Best American Short Stories (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000), in Pushcart Prize XXII and in The O'Henry Prize Stories 2009

He has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the fiction editor at the Boston Review and the Rudge (1948) and Nancy Allen professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This is an abridgement of a 10,000 word interview. The full interview will be published across a network of university and national literary magazines in the coming months.

 

JUNOT DÍAZ

I think part of what I was thinking about with this project was to build the fact that [my character] Yunior is a writer and that with Yunior being a writer we get to check in with his maturing and changing perspective, so that in fact part of the game of writing Yunior is the notion that he’s going to be quite different from book to book and also that occasionally I’m going to in This is How You Lose Her write Yunior from a perspective that’s a period that’s a bit far off from the period he’s writing. Therefore built into the story there’s a perspective that might not otherwise be available if I was writing far more closely to the events he was narrating. These are the weird nerdy decisions one makes as one writes where one has to decide the events that are occurring in your text. You have to decide what’s the distance between the event and the point of telling where the narrator stands, looking upon and reflecting and retelling those events.

On why he teaches at MIT and keeps the company of non-writers:

I don't know if I understand it as well as I should, I just know that it has only been my privilege and prejudice to be interested in writing for readers who are not writers. I think that it’s always been my bag. I've never felt any interest in writing for people who themselves want to be writers. And I do think that there is a difference. There's really a great difference and, god knows, I'm sure we could spend a lot of time talking about those differences, but I've always felt it very strongly. 

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

But you also have a lot of fans who are themselves writers, though I see what you’re saying. I think there’s a sense in your books–aside from the structural devices, the writerly puzzles that you've put into your writing which are very literary–there is a sense with everything which I've read of yours that it can be performed. It has a very strong oral element.

 

DÍAZ

Yeah, I mean I'm not necessarily sure of that, either. It has a great mask of orality, but really I have to tell you, as someone who's lived in these stories a long time, in fact, often that mask of orality is nothing more than that of math. It’s amazing how these...

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Of course it’s not literally oral, but it has a music, an internal music that’s very strong.

 

DÍAZ

Well, if it’s true, I'm grateful for it. But in some sense we're not always so sure of what the hell is going on [as we write], you know?

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

So tell me, what are some of the things you teach in your classes? I know it’s pretty varied compared to other literary programs. What are you recommending from both sci-fi and literary fiction to readers? And I'm asking this as a serious question because I need to interview sci-fi writers and that’s not my background.

 

DÍAZ

Gosh, who am I teaching? Who am I reading? And who am I writing? So I think folks as varied as Hilton Als and Paul Beatty are some of the science fiction people that I'm really enjoying, who I think are just wonderful. Edwidge Danticat, of course. N.K. Jemisin, she’s fantastic. When it comes to listing things my memory does not serve.

ARTWORK BY MIA FUNK - DÍAZ DREAMS OF Santo domingo 

ARTWORK BY MIA FUNK - DÍAZ DREAMS OF Santo domingo 

[...]I try to keep strong sympathy with my female characters. I think in the end I always feel that a character like Yunior [a recurrent character in much of Díaz’s work] grapples with very, very strong women. One, because he's in some way not... I mean to be blunt, he's just not afraid of strong women. And I think Yunior, why he's such a confounding sort of person is because, you know, he's clearly comfortable with strong feminists. He’s got no problem. But what he's incapable of doing is moving away from his own masculine insanity, abandoning entirely this kind of patriarchal prerogative. So [regarding which of my female characters I feel closest to] it all depends on what age of my life I'm thinking about. You know, when I think of myself in my twenties I always think that Lola [the sister in The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao], the person, is the character I feel most strongly for because in my twenties she was the kind of person who I think most taught me about the world. She was the kind of woman that, you know, I learnt really enormous amounts of what it meant to be a person and what it meant to live in a real authentic way. When I think of myself younger, of course, when I think of myself as a teenager, I think of a character like Nilda. [Meeting] a person like that as an adolescent I think taught me quite a bit about the world and about myself and about women’s lives. So it all depends. One is never the same person, one has a different sense of oneself depending on one’s memory. 

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Yeah, I also like Beli a lot. [Beli Cabral, the mother in The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao.]

 

DÍAZ

Sure, yeah.

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I think she's really...

 

DÍAZ

She definitely, ah, she's a really fascinating character.

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I know Beli is from an earlier book, but in your latest book This is How You Lose Her, “Otravida, Otravez” is a great story. And it’s also from a female point of view. So I wondered if you were considering doing more stories or novels from a female point of view? 

DÍAZ

Hard to say, I mean it’s always hard to say for me. I always figured it’s sort of like, the proof will be in the pudding, you know? I could say anything, but in the end it depends on what actually comes out, which to be honest right now, it’s hard for me to even conceptualize what the future will bring. I don't have any ideas [right now], so it’s not really hard. I think most writers I know always have a long list of projects that they are working on and I'm sort of, currently I'm blank. So it makes it harder to think about what the future might bring.