I attended the reading by Junot Diaz at the Lensic this Wednesday in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Junot was funny and charming. He engaged a group of high school kids sitting in the front rows. He appeared to be a down-to-earth guy and I appreciated that. He read and talked to the audience for around a half an hour, and then Chip Delaney interviewed him for another forty-five minutes.
Diaz read three excerpts from his recent Pultizer Prize winning novel The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. He did a great job reading and selected interesting scenes to share. He read a section where he attempts to give the reader an understanding of what the circumstances were for the Dominican Republic, comparing Santo Domingo to the Iraq situation. There is line in the novel in which he makes a comparison to "Ground Zero", and from what I understand the critics gave Diaz a hard time with this particular comparison, but on Wednesday he used a different term instead of "Ground Zero". For some reason I can't pull the term from the pits of my horrible short term memory, but as soon as I do, I'll edit this blog. His comparison of Iraq to the Dominican Republic underneath the dictator Trujillo felt far fetched as well. These are the weaknesses in the "Oscar Wao" novel. Another weakness, which happens to also be its strength, is how Diaz mixes Spanish, Street Slang, and High Diction to create this story, akin to the Drown collection. I feel that this is Diaz's ticket to the Nobel (that's a big statement), but Diaz can mix these three elements unlike anyone else in America. There is no other minority writer in America who has such command of these three elements. Not Jhumpa Lahiri. Not Sherman Alexie. Not Toni Morrison. And that is one of the reasons why it won the Pultizer Prize, to many people's dismay. Many critics feel as though this mixing and mingling of words and slangs and curses and diction is above their frame of reference. Having grown up in an urban enviornment and having been educated at a Native college, I find this mixing common among the younger generations. It speaks to younger Americans. I will give the critics the comparisons, because they were weak and needed more clarification. Everyone has to be careful when comparing something to 9/11 or the Iraqi war, including Junot Diaz.
The right kind of writers. Junot Diaz also mentioned that right now there is so much opportunity for literature that he says there are only one percent of the right kind of writers (that's not a word for word quote), meaning the kind of writers that speak to total human experience. I thought this was profound and captivating. I'll be thinking about that statement for a while.
The reading was a succes, everyone in the audience appeared to be satisfied, including myself. Jhumpa Lahiri will be in Santa Fe in a couple of months, so I'll try to attend that as well.
(please excuse all typos because this stuff is just right off the top of my head, and I'm late for class so I better go)