September 14, 2007

Junot Diaz @ Books and Books, Miami

Junot DiazJunot Diaz seemed relaxed last night as he flipped through the pages of his long awaited novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and began his reading to a capacity audience at Books and Books with two simple questions, "How have you guys been? It's been like what, ten years?"

Junot laughed and the audience enjoyed his light banter with a group of University of Miami graduate students, seated in the two front rows, as he talked about the craft of writing, influences, inspiration and rewriting, "I realized I was really going to be a writer when I found out that that this book was going to take at least ten years." When he was pressed by a member of the audience about the intervening time span, he responded, "Some books come easily and some books come hard. This one was carved out of me."

The first excerpt that he read was from the "Wildwood" section of the book, written in second person, about Yola, the protagonist's twelve year old sister, and her relationship with their mother, Belicia. After giving the audience a few minutes to recover, Diaz entertained a few more questions.

Many in the audience were well-acquainted with the novel and one reader admitted to having read it through in one night. She said she came to the reading to get an explanation about the many footnotes in the book. Junot attributed the use of footnotes to the influence of Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau, and when he faltered with the pronunciation of Chamoiseau's name, he called upon his friend, Edwidge Danticat, to help him and she obliged. He explained the use of the footnotes this way: "The idea of writing footnotes was to create a counterpoint to the coherent authoritative story. The novel frequently falls into the trap of the persuasive story without opposition. The footnotes by undermining the narrative become the opposition."

Diaz then read an excerpt from the first chapter which lays the groundwork of one of the themes of the novel--a counter-history that challenges the conceit of the authoritative text and a challenge to the "official" narratives based on Antillean insights and the mysterious Fuku: "They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began…Fuku americanus, or more colloquially fuku--generally a curse of doom of some kind."

The reading, which felt more like a homecoming, drew a capacity audience in the larger east wing of Books and Books, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth year as an independent book seller in Miami.

For more pictures of the event, please follow this link: Junot Diaz in Miami.

Ariel Gonzalez (Miami Herald) reviews The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Vamos! article on Junot Diaz
(via Counter Balance)


Richard said...

Thanks for this, Geoffrey. I would have loved to attend this even though I'd seen him in NYC the week before.

It's nice to see he's reading different excerpts at different places.

Hope you are well. And I hope I can get back to South Florida -- and Books & Books -- someday.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Hey, Richard!

Junot was great! In some ways changed in some ways different since he read from Drown at the Book Fair.

I am well and I hope you'll be able to make it back to SF.


Fuzz said...

Things are good here in California, Geoffrey. Glad to know about this author and his writing career. In some ways I think that constant, thoughtful blogging will condition me for writing a novel someday. BTW, I purchased "Benjamin, My Son" and am looking forward to reading it (when I can squeeze the time in between grading papers and teaching). All the best, Jeff

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Jeff,

Yes, I think the discipline of regular blogging will help if you decide to write a novel. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Give thanks for buying Benjamin!


clarabella said...

Hi Geoff:
I'm looking forward to reading Junot's novel, having enjoyed DROWN. Ten years is a pretty long time. It's interesting. Our online writing group has been talking about the time it takes to write a book, the time your agent wants you to take to write a book, and the time your audience is prepared to wait around to have that next book... Of course as you get older you become more aware that time has its limitations never mind our conviction in JA that it is longer than rope... As always, benedictions.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Clarabella, I'm about half way through the novel and I'm fascinated with the voice and the innovation that Junot has brought to the historical novel.

I, too, am thinking about time. Almost overnight, these plants (no metaphor here) that I stuck in the ground seven years ago have sprouted a huge stalk that rises above our roof (now I know how Jack and the Bean Stalk began)and is really just doing its own thing--literally. I did nothing to encourage its growth, but I didn't do anything to harm it. It is what it is.
That's how I'd like to think about novels--growing organically out of their own plots without regard to time or publication dates.

I think I have been learning that no matter how much I push, things have their own dynamic and like the plant will come to fruit in their own time.

It's been a hard lesson.


Maria said...

Hi, I'm the co-founder of Slice, a new print literary magazine debuting this month. Our first issue features an exclusive interview with Junot Diaz about his beginnings as a writer -- check out to learn more about us.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, will do.