Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Junot Diaz: Why race is still relevant in fiction.

Junot Diaz

In light of everything we've been reading about race, language, and masculinity, I thought it'd be interesting to throw Junot Diaz into the mix. If you've never heard of Diaz, he's a Dominican American author who currently has two published books: Drown, a collection of short stories, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a novel that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. All of his writing has to do with the experience of Dominican immigrants in the United States, and many of his stories are told from the point of view of Yunior, a young Dominican American man.

I found this interview with Diaz on the NPR website and thought I'd share it, especially because he's an interesting guy to just listen to, especially because I've found that his manner of speaking is very similar to the way he writes.

In this interview, he talks about the fact that not many other people are writing about the Dominican American minority group, how he writes in English despite the fact that the language doesn't feel "organic" to him because it isn't his first language, and why he chooses to insert Spanish phrases into his writing without translating them -- much like Gloria Anzaldua.

I thought it would be interesting to put a more contemporary writer alongside everything we've read to so far, just to show how minority writers still see the things we're learning about as being major issues today.

Also, if you're interested, here's a story by Diaz, which was published in The New Yorker, just to show you what his writing is like.

And also because it's a really good story.


  1. I'm sad I missed Diaz when he came to GW because I studied his writing in my UW20 Class, "Speak English this is America." I think that he ties excellently with Anzaldua by inserting Spanish text in his English writing.

    I remember when reading parts of "Drown" and seeing the Spanish parts of the text. It added a cultural element that would be lost if the writing were entirely in English. Again, as I said in class, this follows right in line with Gates's challenge to literary theorists to incorporate cultural codes (Saussure) and language into text that is representative of that culture. Literary theory on black americans would be incomplete without some element of black vernacular or another piece of black cultural tradition.

    Likewise, literary theory/criticism on latin americans would be incomplete without reference to the Spanish language. Even if not everyone can relate to all of the cultural codes, it is important for literary theorists to represent the culture they are discussing. If they fail to do this, then the field of literary theory and criticism will become the "white dominated" field that bell hooks opposes.

    I feel that writers such as Junot Diaz and Gloria Anzaldua effectively represent their cultures through incorporating cultural codes and messages throughout their writing. Despite Anzaldua's Spanish writing among English text, I do not feel that her meaning is lost to non-Spanish speakers. Rather, the Spanish propels the meaning into a cultural realm where even the non-Latino can feel the cultural moments of her work.

    Thus, the incorporation of cultural codes isn't meant to alienate, but to share culture among various readers.

    As we study more ethnic writers (Gates, Baker, Anzaldua), I see responses that are quite the contrary of bell hook's argument that minoritys are "left out" of literary theory.

  2. Hey! Here's a relevant article from The Hatchet!

    Choice quotation: "Even if you're the whitest writer on earth, you are writing about race, you just don't know it."

    Interesting how that whole consciousness/knowing thing comes up again. I do wonder if Diaz is overplaying his hand, though.

  3. * minorities

    Also, the title of my UW20 "Speak English this is America," points to Foucault's themes of power and language, as well as our recently discussed chapter from "Representation" on the "other." In the US, a white dominated country, power comes with knowledge of the English language. Those who do not speak English or who have thick accents from another country are sometimes looked at as uneducated, and immediately become the "other."

    The title of my UW of course is sarcastic, as we explored writers of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

  4. I love Junot Díaz!!! I read Drown when I was lifeguarding two summers ago and almost every story made me cry, either from laughter or from sadness. He is a wonderful writer and definitely one of my favorite alternatives to the Jonathan Franzens of the world.