Junot Díaz (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 1968) is the author of two collections of short stories and one novel. One of the most original and celebrated voices of his time, Díaz writes from the heart of the Dominican-American community in New Jersey, with many of his stories examining the complexities of growing up and living between cultural identities. The success of his first collection Drown (published in 1996) led to Díaz being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Díaz’s follow-up novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007 and the publishing of his latest collection, This Is How You Lose Her, coincided in 2012 with the awarding of a prestigious Macarthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant. Díaz divides his time between New York and Boston, where he teaches in MIT’s Creative Writing Program. In August 2013 he was a guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival.
KYD: As I read your first collection Drown, I wondered how it was received in New Jersey, in the neighbourhood where many of the stories are set? What did your Mum and your brothers and your friends from the block think of it?
JD: Nobody there reads me, that’s the best part. It has been my fate to be part of a community where they don’t really read me. I don’t know what it is, my friends are proud of me for being a writer, in the way that folks are proud of you for raising dogs, but they don’t ever come to the kennel.
KYD: Do you feel you write for the Dominican-American community as a group? Has that ever been problematic?
JD: I always feel like I write about such a narrow, tiny universe that it’s always astonishing that anyone finds themselves reflected. I’m just stunned that non-New Jersey people can see themselves. If you’re writing for a community that’s not accustomed to seeing itself represented you get what we call ‘the shock of representation.’ One of the outcomes of that sometimes is the question ‘who is authorised to make that representation?’ and I find that to be a normal conversation that’s interesting to have. I’ve got no problem with folks asking that question, because it’s a conversation, not a judgement, and the jury is permanently out on it. To be nervous about that conversation is to be nervous of readers, and I’m more nervous of writers than I am of readers. It’s a very readerly conversation, I like it.
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