Junot Díaz visits on campus

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

The Sept. 12 Latino Heritage Month event at Film Row Cinema in the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., was an informal Q-and-A session with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Díaz.

Díaz, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is renowned for depicting the Dominican immigrant experience, offered frank and thoughtful replies to aspiring writers.

Díaz was asked why his new anthology, “This is How You Lose Her,” revisits narrative protagonist Yunior, who appears in his first book “Drown” and his award-winning novel “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

“Yunior’s ethos allows me to not only represent a kind of Dominican Jersey of African descent….but he’s so freakishly honest and simultaneously personally duplicitous that he strikes me as very emblematic,” he said.

He also gave insight into bouts of writers’ block.

“Most of us have learned to be artists in corporate spaces where producing on a deadline is a burden that robs artist of a sense of value in their work,” Díaz said.

“You need to uncouple your creative self from this horrible assembly line because you’ll never produce anything on the clock,” he said.

Díaz saw pushing his latest release as a nonissue.

“They keep saying, ‘Go buy the book,’ [and] you don’t have to buy the book,” Díaz said. “That’s why there are libraries, you know?”

Before Díaz took the stage, Randall Albers, chairman of the Fiction Writing Department, introduced him to a buzzing audience.

Albers reminisced about Díaz’s past appearances at the Fiction Writing Department’s Story Week and his involvement in an outreach program for young writers.

“Those young people, I remember, crowded around him afterwards like he was an old friend,” Albers said.

Ruth Camargo, a graduate assistant in Latino Cultural Affairs and an MFA candidate in Creative Writing, was one of the people in charge of choosing speakers for the event.

“We try to pick Latino artists that for some reason are standing out,” she said.

“The reason why we do that is to try to get Latino students [and] try and help them engage with the idea of success, [and] keep them at school.”

Born in Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana in 1968 to a military family and emigrating to New Jersey at age 6, Díaz described his upbringing as “part of the African-diaspora” and a “super, hyper-masculine” culture.

“Díaz went through a lot as he grew up,” said Camargo, an international student from Uruguay.

“He is an immigrant, but he still belongs to that Latino community.”

Díaz also said the strange contradiction between the vulnerability of love and masculinity are the “types of unsolvable conflicts … that drive art.”

“Boys take up an enormous amount of narrative space,” said Diaz.

“Paradoxically, with the external saturation of boys, the internal life of males—male subjectivity— is rarely encountered,” he said.