Author Junot Díaz highlights the importance of writing
Megan Valley | Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz spoke Monday at the 2016 Notre Dame Literary Festival as the featured author speaker.
Díaz said he tries to accomplish three goals when speaking to an audience.
“One: defense of the arts. Two: create the space for conversations about the kind of themes the books themselves engage in. Three: modeling the kind of writer that one is,” he said. “You never know if anything actually works. … You just have to have a lot of faith.”
As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Díaz said wanting to become a writer was a “strange thing” to his family.
“I wouldn’t say they were encouraging,” he said. “I also wouldn’t say they were discouraging. It was so off-the-map … to present to your parents that you wanted to be an artist. It wasn’t something even to be had.
“It was far harder in those days, in my mind, that in the imminently practical immigrant world that you would pursue something as impractical as being a writer. I thought it was going to be difficult for me, but these days, I’ve discovered the young people I work with are under even more pressure to earn out.”
Díaz’s books, including Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and National Book Award finalist “This Is How You Lose Her” draw on his experience as a Dominican immigrant.
“For me, it became a matter of life or death if I could find a way to present the complexity of my community, as an artist, as a writer,” he said. “If only because, by highlighting that complexity, I could start to make some sort of sense.”
According to Díaz, people of color tend to have an “internalized oppression” because of the white-dominated society they live in — a problem he frequently explores in his writing. He said these negative feelings toward the self must be confronted.
“More important than anything is to begin an internal discussion, to begin to make space in your life for you to raise questions about what are the harmful assumptions that this society imposes on people that you yourself have absorbed,” Díaz said. “I always tell people a great way to maintain that conversation is to read, to write, to go see art that raises these kind of questions — make it a part of your life and a part of your practice and you’re much more likely to overcome it.”
Díaz said he has mixed feelings about his work in spite of his success.
“I’m pretty much a reluctant writer,” he said. “I’ve become very successful at something I’m ambivalent about. I think the jury is still out if this is going to be my life calling or not. It’s so strange to say. … I think that’s just my nature. I’ve always been kind of a questioner, been uncertain of things.”