-- In 1996, when Junot Díaz published his first storybook, Negocios, at 27 years old, compliments rained over him. Eleven years later he returns with a novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, recently published in Spanish, which has earned him the Circle of Critics award, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, and finally, the Pulitzer. The protagonist, Oscar de León, is an obese boy of Dominican ancestry, who lives in New Jersey, and is obsessed with science fiction and women. A curse has followed his family since they lived in the Dominican Republic, and Oscar's dilemma consists of trying to reverse the curse.
Junot was born the last day of the year 1968 in Villa Juana, Santo Domingo and at the age of six emigrated to United States with his mother and his four brothers to be with his father. After graduating from Rutgers University he obtained a master of fine arts degree from Cornell University, and presently teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At the end of July, Junot visited the offices of Selecciones. Fame does not seem to affect him, not even minimally. With a smile on his face, he went into depth about central themes in his work and interests: the immigrant experience, family relations, the Spanish language inside the U.S. and his fascination of reading.
SRD: You had access to the magazine Selecciones as a child?
Junot: Yes, I always read it. My family did not read a lot, but at home we had the Bible and Selecciones. That was all.
SRD: Do you still feel surprised to have earned the Pulitzer Prize?
Junot: I never dreamt of having so much success. When I was writing this novel, the only thing that I wanted was to finish it. When one wins prizes such as the Pulitzer it always surprises you. Also, one has to thank many people. I was able to write this novel because I had the support of a community. You cannot imagine the number of times that I was over it and I wanted to leave it. If it hadn't been for my friends, my mother and my girlfriend, I would have left it. Therefore one has to be humble. There is not a novel written only by its author. Although the one recognized is the author, there is always a group behind him/her.
SRD: What was the reaction of your family?
Junot: Well, I stem from a very humble family, a military family, that barely knows of literature. Their reaction was: "That's good that you won that prize". But they do not understand very well what it signifies. If I am happy and I have work, for them all is well. That is how they see success. They don't understand what it is to be an artist. They look at it in the following way: "You have published two books. That's good, but you do not have a car yet". They have very practical criteria.
SRD: And your students at MIT, what reaction did they have when you won that prize?
Junot: The majority of my students do not know that I am a writer. When I am in the classroom, I do not speak of what I have done. They do not pay me to speak of my life. I have students that, years after having graduated, send me messages asking me if I am the writer of the book that have just found. And when I tell them, "yes", they are happy.
SRD: You have said that to you, reading is more important than writing.
Junot: There is no doubt. I read a book every two or three days. The majority of the writers that I know consider themselves writers. I am a reader first. Later, in third or fourth place, I am a writer. Reading gives me enormous pleasure, and fascinates me. It is something that I do without feeling pressure. But to write is work. I feel that I am a human being when I read, and the son of a soldier when I write.
To read the rest of the Selecciones interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author, Juno Diaz, pick up the latest issue of Selecciones magazine.