Sunday, September 21, 2008

Junot Diaz

Heard him speak on my campus last night. It was one of the best author events I've ever attended because he was accessible, funny, political, outrageous, compassionate and so, so smart.

He read two short pieces then took questions. The first piece he'd forgotten to bring but was able to read off his i-phone! He thanked Steve Jobs afterward. That piece was a hilarious one about a guy who, like an idiot, cheats on his hot girlfriend, who catches him by reading his diary. The speaker claims the diary is the start of his new novel, but the jilter girlfriend doesn't buy it. The second piece Diaz read was an excerpt of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Both pieces were in second person. He talked a little about how writing in second person is unnatural and therefore a good challenge for a writer. He also said second person voice pulls in and agitates the reader, which he said is good. Writers want to do both. (One of the first pieces I ever read in second person was the title story in Pam Houston's first book.)

During the Q&A, Diaz talked about how much he loves reading comics and Manga, and he recommended one called The Drifting Classroom, which is now on my reading list because he called it "amazing."

He also talked about the government bail-out of Wall Street and how disgusting it is that almost a trillion dollars is suddenly available for the big capitalists, but not for schools who have been asking for money "for forever."

Several times he slammed his father as "the biggest asshole ever . . . really!" and talked about machismo and patriarchy as a stain on society. He said male writers can work to create alternative masculinities. It's very harmful, he said, to keep inside the anger against those who have harmed us. Instead, he said we need to work on healing and cultivating compassion. Even though his father's a "big dick," as he put it, he said he has forgiven him.

What can I say? This guy's an original. He's the real deal. Too bad he can't run for President since he was born in the Dominican Republic. But he's doing great things with his art, teaching and speaking. Don't miss him if he's speaking in your 'hood.

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