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Junot Diaz: The Self Confessed Ghetto-Nerd by Laura a Diaz

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Junot Diaz is the author of the short story collection, Drown, which debuted in 1996; and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which was published in 2008. In an interview with A.O. Scott for the article, "Dreaming in Spanglish," which appeared in the in the September 30th issue of the New York Times, Diaz says that he is not only those things however, but was first a sci-fi "ghetto nerd"( Scott).

Drown is a collection of short stories told through the voice and POV of the central character, Yunior, who also becomes the narrator of his novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. However, although Diaz's publishers presented Drown as a short-story collection, Diaz himself is reluctant to "check that box." In an interview with book reviewers, Diaz says, "Drown was neither a novel nor a story collection, but something a little more hybrid, a little more creolized. This was why we didn't put "Stories" or "A Novel" on the cover. We wanted folks to decide what it was...? Entiendes? Okay, enough about my categorical anxieties..." (

However you want to categorize it, Drown has received international acclaim from critics and readers alike. In fact, in Sam Sacks article, "The Long Puzzling Absence of Junot Diaz," for Open Letters Monthly in 2007, Sacks says that Drown "is written in a voice almost nobody had encountered before, and has no peer to this day" (Sacks).

Soon Diaz was more in demand and sought after than he ever thought he could be. Drown became so hot on the shelves that it became listed on every critics must-read list. Because of this, it was translated into Spanish very quickly and published as Negocios in 1997. After this, Diaz was snatched up quickly by Riverhead Hardcover publishers in a two-book contract, slotting a six-figure advance. Oddly enough, critics claim that Diaz was overwhelmed by his too fast, too soon success and 'choked'. Sacks explains what he believes was the issue this way, "something great and epochal was wanted from him, and he didn't know how to write it with the material that most interests him" (Sacks).

In fact, it would be another eleven years before Diaz was able to fulfill his contract and complete his second work of creative fiction, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. In the book review interview with Penguin he explains that he originally began writing a novel about the "de-construction of New York." He hasn't totally abandoned the idea for that novel however. He says, "I still have parts of that novel on my desk, and its wild, watching Heroes, to see how common our apocalyptic nightmares are, and also how compelling." He told Penguin that during the time that he was attempting to write that novel (9/11) he was having too much trouble processing what was going on in the "real world" to be able to focus on a story so similar. However, he also says that it wasn't just that but it was also "my own struggles against myself....You have to become the person you need to be in order to write your book. I guess it just took me ten or so years to become that person" (Penguin).

He also explained that it wasn't that he couldn't write during those supposed "dry" years. He wrote every day and everywhere. He says that no matter what he tried his novel "wouldn't budge past the 75- page mark." Then, with the help of his fiancée he made the painful decision to box up what he had and start from scratch. Diaz says, "Five years of my life..., all down the tubes because I couldn't pull off something other people seemed to pull off with relative ease: a novel. By then I wasn't even interested in a Great American Novel. I would have been elated with the eminently forgettable NJ novel" (Penguin).

Yet, his "re-thinking" and fortitude paid off however; even though he says it "wiped" him out. He told Maya Jaggi, in an interview for The Independent, that one of the reasons that this "dry" period was so hard for him was that it reminded him of migration and how that was so hard for him; he had"... lost so many words, that he didn't want to lose another"(Jaggi).

The story of Oscar Wao is the story of a "ghetto nerd," and the curse that plagued his family. This novel has forced the critics to swallow their doubting tongues because this is also the novel that earned the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, our nation's highest literary honor. In the New York Times article," Dreaming in Spanglish," by A.O. Scott, he describes the novel as "a wondrous, not so brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets Star Trek, meets David Foster Wallace, meets Kanye West"(Scott).

Although his embrace of Spanish, or in reality, "Spanglish", often has critics boxing Díaz as a Latino author, the truth of it is a little more complex than "checking a box." Diaz resents being forced into a box, "African diasporic, migrant, Caribbean, Dominican, Jersey boy - these are my building blocks," he says. "It's more an interlocking chain than any one point" (Wilson 206)

The 43-year-old professor of MIT should have a lot to celebrate, but in an interview

With CBS news correspondent, Anthony Mason, in June 2008, he revealed that his success is still a little bit surreal for him and hasn't quite sunk-in. Of course, Diaz, whose speech is a mixture of street slang and what he calls "nerdly" words, most likely wouldn't use the word "surreal." About his reluctance to celebrate too quickly or too soon, he told Mason, "And people are like, (you) got a Nobel Prize! ...And I'm like, 'My parents were illegal!'...I love this... only in America, yeah?" (Mason).

In fact, in an interview via e-mail with Kathy Wilson, in 2009 for Cincinnati Magazine, he revealed that even his mother is dubious to say that he (Diaz) is successful. "My sister is a lawyer, has her own big house in New Jersey. That's success to my mother" (Wilson).

And that statement itself reveals the root of the author's reluctance to claim success. Diaz was born in Villa Juana, a run-down neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, December 31st, 1968; during the Dominic Republic hurricane season. He was the third child in a family of five children. Until he was six years old he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father worked in the United States. It wasn't until December 1974 that Diaz was reunited with his father in Parlin, New Jersey when he, his mother, and his



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