Interview with Junot Diaz

BOMB Artists in Conversation – Junot Diaz

Considering this week’s reading assignment, I saw it fitting to share an interview with Junot Diaz, the author of “How to Date a Brown Girl.”

This isn’t really an interview as much as it’s a conversation between two writers; Diaz, and Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American author. During their discussion, they talk Diaz’s book, culture and Diaz’s inner nerd.

There were a couple discussion points in particular that are worth highlighting.

When Danticat asks Diaz why did he take so long to finish his book, he tells her that “the novel wouldn’t have it any other way.” This book was not some project that he could of worked on in anyway, but instead it was a consequence of the time he spent writing it and what he experienced as he wrote it. The way he talks about the process of writing his book, he does not refer to it as his creation so much as if it was its own being that he helped materialize.

I also enjoyed hearing the discussion around his character Oscar, and how while he may not be defined as a Dominican “by someone in the Dominican culture”, he is still representative of what Diaz sees as “Dominican”. This dissonance, and how Oscar treads the lines of representing and not representing an entire nation and culture, Diaz believes, is why he is such an attractive and intriguing character. He is a character that can represent the Dominican Republic, and to some degree does, but he falls under that category of people that “no one wants to build the image of a nation around”. But, how do you define a nation and build its image? More importantly, whose image is more credible?

I myself am an immigrant, like Diaz. Born to Sudanese parents in Saudi Arabia, I migrated to the U.S early in my childhood. As an immigrant, I’ve developed a sense and outlook on Sudanese culture that does not completely overlap with those shared by individuals who traditionally would be classified as more Sudanese than I. But that does not discredit my accounts of Sudanese culture, and in my writings about Sudanese customs and practices, my accounts are not inaccurate. Diaz shares how his experiences as a Dominican heavily influence his writing, but he also acknowledges that he is not a typical Dominican; he was a smart, nerdy boy that grew up in a poor neighborhood. But who is to say that his work isn’t Dominican? He built this character Oscar, who would be traditionally defined as non-Dominican, as a composite of the nerdy Dominican boys he grew up with. Is there a true Dominican culture, and are all those that write outside the framework of that culture not writing Dominican literature?

This is a great great interview and there is a lot of good stuff for those of you who are interested in multicultural fiction.

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