Junot Diaz spoke at the Arlington Public Library last night. Even the overflow room was standing room only. It was worth every swollen ankle moment for my pregnant body.
For those of you who don’t know Diaz, he wrote The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, one of my favorite recent novels. Junot Diaz deserves his Pulitzer Prize so bad it makes you want to cry with enthusiastic happiness, like on the level if Miss America were crowned on live television and responded with: “But I’m smart. When are you going to give a shit about that?”
While not surprising, it was still delightful to discover that he grew up reading feminist, women of color novelists. Throughout his talk he slammed white patriarchal supremacy, telling us that culture tries to make artists and writers and everyone as white, male and straight as it can, with a message that if you do this, you will be loved. He talked about having his students at MIT look through The New York Times bestseller list one year and identify that an author of color was in the bestseller list only one out of 52 weeks. He spoke defiantly against rampant discrimination directed toward the Latino community, including the pressure to not speak Spanish.
He also spoke a great deal about the unquestioned status of capitalism in our society, and how it appears to be infecting children to the point that they display the pressure to specialize early in life. I enjoyed his comments about capitalism and art, in particular his view that writers and artists shouldn’t expect their art to “do something” (such as make money, or make other people happy), because we must create for the future and not the now. In other words Junot Diaz is a flaming anti-racist, feminist, unabashedly progressive, rebel artist dude. Which makes me want to read more of his books.
He’s brilliant and chill at the same time. I loved his self-deprecating, though not self-apologizing, style. One of my favorite quotes from the evening arose from a question as to why he named the title of one book, Drown, differently in the English and Spanish versions. He chalked it up to being stupid and in his 20s. Summing it up, he said: “It’s like you always have these great ideas as an artist, and then you execute, and then it’s super ass.”