Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Evening with Junot Diaz

An Evening with Junot Diaz

Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Welcome Reception 6pm  

Reading 7pm

Naugatuck Community College

750 Chase Parkway, Waterbury, CT
Mainstage Theater
3rd Floor, Arts Building

This event is free and open to the public.

Junot Diaz is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". He was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. His new book is entitled "This Is How You Lose Her".

Below Arianna and Amber will give some thoughts and review the event itself. 

The two of us attended the above talk at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, CT.  This was hosted by the school's very impressive newspaper, The Tamarack.  It seems that the school had a connection with Diaz through one of its professors of writing or newspaper advisers, or both?  We can't quite recall, but it was a woman who had known Diaz for years, and been dragged along to a reading of his first book, Drown, which he published in 1996.  The woman told a funny little story about how she was initially unimpressed with Diaz's work, and told him so!  Since then, they have remained friends, as Diaz has gathered accolades galore - including a Pulitzer Prize - for his writing.

The audience was made up mostly of students and faculty of NVCC, most of whom were Hispanic.  Diaz spoke often specifically to them, as he is a great inspiration, having been the first Dominican writer (and one of the first Hispanics?) to receive a Pulitzer.  So it was a great thing to have him come speak to an auditorium full of young, impressionable students.  And he seemed to really strike home with them, especially because he often lapsed into slang and Spanish, and sprinkled his speech with profanity, which made him more relatable and enjoyable to listen to.  His wasn't some dry, academic lecture on the nature of writing.  He engaged the audience, often had them laughing out loud, and really spoke to them as equals, which seemed to work very well.

All in all, the talk was light and enjoyable for the most part, although Diaz did touch on some tough subjects, such as why there is such a perceived gender disparity between how each handles relationships, and why Dominican men are "how they are."  Of course, he made the very important point that it's not just Dominican men, and it's not just men. People are people, and we all have strange but perhaps self-rationalized reasons for what they do.  It was especially interesting to listen to Diaz discuss the reasons he thought were behind why DR men act the way they do, especially when it comes to misogyny.  He pointed out that Hispanic men are given many societal (but not always logical) reasons why they should hide and mask their internal selves.  He was a great, insightful, and very honest speaker.

Diaz has a very strong and deep connection with the Caribbean which he expressed multiple times during his talk. One of the questions he was asked was about Spanish Novellas and if they inspired any of his work. Apparently, to him, Novellas should inspire everyone. His take was that Novellas took the ordinary to the extreme which then elevated a story to fantasy, when something is fantasy it then takes on a different value to a person. Books intrigue because they mirror your life in subtle or profound ways. For Diaz, if a Novella is extreme... one can only wonder what his sci-fi book, "Monstro", will be like? (Currently being written). Who knows when we'll see this book though: Diaz is notorious for taking quite a long time to finish each book (11 years to write his 2nd book and 16 years to write the 3rd!! -- And he claims he must go to his "dark place" to write!).

His honesty really stuck out and seemed to resonate with the audience. He did tend to speak quite a bit about the Hispanic culture but he also tried to connect to the other majority in the audience--the readers! He explained how a book isn't something someone has "to get", and how reading isn't a test even though some teachers might make it seem like it is. He even spoke a little about how making reading a school chore takes the fun out of it. His best advice to aspiring Authors was: "READ!" Everyone in the audience seemed to agree with nods and mumbles of accord. When Diaz was then asked why he writes... His reply? He doesn't know how to do anything else.

Some great points & concepts we took away from Diaz's talk:

  • "We live like ghosts" -- Diaz
  • A book (reading a book) isn't something to "get", it's not a test. Books intrigue because they mirror your life in subtle or profound ways.
  • The masculine & patriarchal regime of the Caribbean produces great feminist Dominican women.
  • Monogamy? Exacts a price on people. Possessive marriage has produced enormous damage in our society today.
  • Dark, deep history of the Caribbean. Most artists die trying to be "the best" but most art is born in that dark place beyond approval and applause. Diaz writes without looking for this approval, away from it all. He wants to go into that space and bring back a drop of something. Needs to be away from social pressures, he doesn't care if it's prize-worthy...only if it's art. (Which he realizes is a very subjective idea.)
  • He is currently writing his first scifi book, Monstro.  A totally new experience for him.  (from the NVCC newspaper, The Tamarack)

Want more?  Check out the Twitter hashtag #JunotDiazNVCC for other thoughts and responses from the event.

-Arianna & Amber

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