In honor of Hispanic heritage month, the Spanish and Latino Students’ Association and other campus groups, a sponsored a reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz Friday at the Interfaith Chapel.
Diaz, an author and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, won acclaim for his novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” in 2008. The event was comprised of two short readings from Diaz’s work and a question and answer session from audience members.
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” chronicles the life of Oscar de Leon, an overweight Dominican teen who grows up in Washington Heights, N.J. The book describes the title character, Oscar, as a “sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming a Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love.”
Diaz writes with a modern and youthful approach, unafraid of political incorrectness and with a raw and poignant look into issues of identity and culture. He specifically writes about Dominican history and culture, delving closely into the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and other moments of what he calls “historical amnesia,” events that citizens would rather forget.
Diaz stated that he wrote about Oscar to give young Hispanic Americans a story and a character they could relate to. Diaz divulged to the audience that he never had that “reflection” growing up — no representation or role model that inspired him to go to college and better himself.
During his talk, Diaz stated, “a huge part of who I was was not even visible or even permissible” in the mainstream society that he tried to integrate himself into.
He later created a powerful analogy to describe this cycle, referencing how classic monsters, like vampires, don’t have reflections as a symptom of their monstrousness, but instead argued, “If you want to create monsters, raise children without reflections.”
At the event, Diaz read his passages with an intensity that emphasized the inherent emotions in his writing. His inflection allowed for the audience to more completely understand his perspective in works that are semi-autobiographical, allowing them to truly feel any sadness or humor in his passages — two emotions that overlap often in the realism of Diaz’s prose.
The event, however, was brought to life by Diaz’s personality and open nature, which allowed the discussion to range from funny moments in which he declared, “Now this may be a surprise, but if you go to college you’re a fucking nerd” to thought-provoking discussions about how “we all bring different wisdom to what life means.”
Overall, the audience was left amazed at the “brief, wondrous” works of Junot Diaz. Everyone left the Interfaith Chapel, taking with them the energy of Diaz and a much deeper understanding of the inspiration and strength found in Hispanic culture.
Alquist is a member of the class of 2013.