Writer of Color: Junot Diaz

Photo of POC writer Junot Diaz from UVA Today

Quick Facts on POC Writer Junot Diaz

  • Born December 31, 1968
  • Raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and New Jersey, USA
  • Teaches at MIT
  • Attended the MFA program at Cornell University
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) 

Biography on POC Writer Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz (JOO-noh DEE-az) was born in Santo Domingo, the capital and one of the largest cities in the Dominican Republic. He lived with his mother and grandparents.

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A few years later, he immigrated to New Jersey where his father worked. He had an insatiable appetite for reading, spending most of his time at the public library for old-school science fiction novels. (Think John Christopher and apocalyptic doom scenarios.)

He received his BA in English at Rutgers University in 1992. Diaz later obtained his MFA in Creative Writing at Cornell University. Currently, he teaches creative writing at MIT. He is also the fiction editor at Boston Review.

Diaz co-founded the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, designed to provide workshops for writers of color. Check them out here. 

The immigrant experience is central to Diaz’s work and life. He fights for undocumented immigrants and works to provide resources for other people of color.

Super Fact: Junot Diaz and fellow Hispaniola writer Edwidge Danticat often return back to the island to fight for civil rights and political change. In 2015, Diaz was called anti-Dominican by the DR for criticizing Haitian immigration measures. The Dominican Republic later revoked Diaz of citizenship.

Read more on the story  from The Guardian or NBC News.com

Before You Read POC Writer Junot Diaz

The Dominican Republic

While the French colonists claimed Haiti, the western half of Hispaniola, the Spanish kept the DR. The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. Though the Dominican Republic shares the island with Haiti, the two countries are quite different.

While half the population of Haiti remains in poverty, the Domnican Republic has built for itself a higher standard of living—with paved roads, longer average lifespans and better pay. Today, the Dominican Republic boasts the 9th largest economy in Latin America.

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In 1930s dictator Rafael Trujillo came into power. While he was able to improve living conditions in the Dominican Republic, he ruled without compromise, securing national order through fear, threats and military power. He despised his Haitian neighbors and indoctrinated his people to hate Haitians just the same. To this day, anti-Haitian sentiment exists. The DR government begrudgingly shares the island with Haiti.

Geographically, the Dominican Republic features several mountain ranges, rivers, fertile land and other natural resources. Some historians believe this is why the Dominican Republic was able to build a stable economy while Haiti was not. To read more about the differences between Haiti and the DR, click here.Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 10.59.18 AM.pngThe most popular river you may hear referenced is called the Ozama River, which receives passenger and freight vessels and is central to all port activities. It is located just east of Santo Domingo and cuts 92 miles inland before empty into the Caribbean Sea.

Today, the Ozama River has turned into the slums, displacing 300,000 people with constant floods from global warming. To see photos and learn more about what the DR is doing about it, click here.

You may also hear the capital of the DR referenced by different names. Santo Domingo is also officially known as Santo Domingo de Guzmán. During Trujillo’s reign, the capital was renamed Ciudad Trujillo after himself. The name was restored after his assassination.

To learn more about the Dominican Republic, click here.

Diaz’s Writing

Diaz often incorporates Spanish into his writing.

He also makes good use of footnotes. DO NOT SKIP his footnotes. They’re both hilarious and informative.

To read an interview with Bookbrowse.com and Junot Diaz, visit here.

Be sure to read this heartfelt confession of his journey writing The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Click here.

Quotes from POC Writer Junot Diaz

 “You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they [white people] think we’re taking over.

“In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.”

“Look, without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as People of Color, nothing about fanboy or fangirl culture would make sense. What I mean by that is: if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t sense. If it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings in the New World through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense. If it wasn’t for the extermination of so many Indigenous First Nations, most of what we call science fiction’s contact stories doesn’t make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understood that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible, yeah. In the Green Lantern Corps, we are the oath. We are all of these things—erased, and yet without us—we are essential.”

Super Fact: Junot Diaz, graduate of Cornell University’s MFA program wrote a scathing review for The New Yorker on how white the program is. Read it here.

Works by POC Writer Junot Diaz

1996 Drown (short story collection)

2007 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008)

2012 This Is How You Lose Her (short story collection)


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