Exclusive: Junot Diaz Chats with Latina.Com

By Mariela Rosario

You've just won the National Book Critics Circle award, congratulations! Did you expect this kind of phenomenal response to The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao?

No, no! You just want to finish the darn thing and you want one person to write you a little note to let you know that the hours you spent were worth it. One is grateful and humble for any reaction so having this is really gratifying. After working so long on the book any recognition is wonderful. I’ll be honest it’s always great to win but it was a tremendous honor just to be nominated, the company I was in with the nominations was extraordinary.

Did you feel any pressure as a Latino writer to fit into the longstanding tradition of Latin American Literature?

In the end, we all belong to multiple traditions and all of these traditions have certain rules, even the conventions of literature have certain rules. But the idea as a writer and an artist is to try to do something new. You’re drawing from these traditions and you depend on them, for your strength and your sense of self, but you’re really trying to do something new and change it. Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Sokol, Maxine Hong Kingston, Cristina Garcia and Octavia Butler all have influenced me…I’m just one of those people who read so much and I owe so much to the people who have written these books that gave me so much pleasure and inspiration over all these years.

Do you deliberately use language that will appeal to the younger urban generation?

I’m not sure about that. You always want to reach out to the communities that created you. Being a young Dominican kid in New Jersey was most of my life so of course I want that community to respond to what I write. But more than anything the book will tell you how to write it and a lot of times that leaves a lot of people out. It’s great when it doesn’t but I wish I could say you could start with a formula of who’s in and who’s out, but you can’t because the book will really determine that.

All of your stories and books are written from a male point of view. Could you ever seeing yourself writing something from a female point of view?

I guess that none of this is real anyways, but the distance between writing about men and writing about women is probably not as far as it would seem. But getting it right takes an enormous amount of effort and luck. In the end the truth of it is that when I’m writing from these hyper-masculine points of view, I’m doing that to create a map of masculinity that will be useful for both men and women as a point of discussion. When I was studying writing people would be criticizing women writers for being too critical of men or too feminist and I was always under the impression that the women writers hadn’t gone far enough, that they were really letting guys off the hook in some ways. Most of the guys I know are on average 4 or 5 times worse than portrayed in books and I think this was an attempt to create a useful map of that.

We hear that Miramax has bought the rights to
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. How do you feel about your novel being made into a movie? If you could choose any actor to play the title character who would it be?

Miramax bought the option but that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is going to be made. It’s happened with this book, it was optioned once before by Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries), so I’m always thinking it's very nice and great but at the same time it has happened before. It might actually happen, but it’s just one of those things where you cross your fingers and hope. I think I would want to give a brand new face an opportunity, you know some young, incredibly talented kid. These projects are always a great way to bring out that enormous pool of talent that we have.

As a Dominican immigrant yourself, what do you think about all of the controversy surrounding the
immigration issue and the recent rise in violence against Latinos?

I’m not surprised. I mean in the US the xenophobia baseline is already high, but with the kind of discourse that’s been in the air for the past year it is only bound to get worse as the economy tanks. I think it says a lot about a country when we’re in the middle of a war and we allow the talking heads and the pundits to distract us from the serious issues of our young people being devoured in war and our economy being completely bankrupted to talk about this incredibly complicated and nuanced issue of immigration in this ridiculously simplistic and nativistic way. It’s just outrageous! It’s a country that has decided that it’s bad enough that we are fighting so called enemies on the outside we’re also going to devour ourselves on the inside.

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- Mariela Rosario