This past Wednesday, Junot Díaz addressed the 2009 Helen and Philip Brecher New Student Forum, a Brandeis orientation tradition. His novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was chosen as summer reading for incoming freshmen at the University. In anticipation of his address, he sat down for an interview with the school newspaper. Here are some excerpts and the link to the interview.
JustArts: Your first book, Drown, was a collection of short stories published to wide acclaim. Was there a sense of expectation afterwards as to what your next work would be? Did that contribute to the subsequent writer’s block?
Junot Diaz: I wanted to write a novel. What it was about wasn’t clear, but I wanted to write a novel for sure. It just happened to take 11 years. I’m sure the expectations didn’t help but that wasn’t the real problem. The problem was that I was too hard on myself and on my book.
JA: In the 11-year span between the publication of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, you’ve mentioned that you wrote a lot of unsuccessful material. Is all of that related to what would become Oscar Wao or your upcoming novel? What other kinds of ideas did you pursue?
JD: All of it was for versions of Oscar. All of it terrible.
JA: Were the stories about Oscar and Trujillo always intertwined in your mind from the very beginning? Did Yunior always narrate the tale?
JD: Yes, Oscar in some ways was the anti-Trujillo. And Yunior was always the narrator for reasons that are in my opinion essential to the book.
JA: Part of Oscar’s loneliness stems from his total isolation as this Dominican ghetto-nerd. If he had grown up with the Internet, do you think meeting and interacting with other fanboys would have made him less lonely? Could he have found some of the intimacy or connection he so craved?
JD: Oscar’s loneliness runs deeper than the non-networked ’80s. Oscar is a victim of a society, a culture that has losers and winners and his love for a “useless” art form and his atypical masculinity all helped to marginalize him as well.