Junot Diaz visited Manhattan College on Feb. 29 to speak to students about his journey from a “nobody” to one of America’s most renowned writers.
Author of the critically acclaimed short story collection Drown and the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Mr. Diaz visited MC as part of the Major Author Reading Series.
“All I wanted to do as an undergraduate was lift weights. There was nothing special about me,” he said.
To a crowd of more than 200 people, mostly students and faculty members, he spoke about immigrating to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic at 6, growing up in a military family and attending Rutgers University.
It was as a 19-year-old junior at Rutgers that, he said, he began dedicating three hours a day to schoolwork while also working full time. Inspired to add a Dominican voice to the American art world, he soon started on his first book, Drown. It was released when he was 27, in 1996.
Although many MC students admitted to attending the talk because their teachers forced them, Mr. Diaz won them over. One student said Mr. Diaz, who’s regularly featured in the highbrow magazine The New Yorker, was not at all like she expected.
He walked back and forth in front of the lecture hall, engaging the students not unlike a stand-up comic.
He spoke at length about what he calls “the culture of respectability,” which he described as societal constraints on discussions of common human activity, from rape to profanity.
He read “Alma,” a story written in the second person about that deals with a male character whose girlfriend finds out he’s been cheating when she reads his diary.
He read the ending slowly, stressing every word:
“Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember as long as you live. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel. This is how you lose her.”
The last sentence is the title of his next short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, all about cheating, to be published in September.