Junot Díaz (born 31 December 1968) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican–American writer. He moved to the United States with his parents at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz’s work is the duality of the immigrant experience.
Díaz was born in Villa Juana, a “barrio” (Spanish for neighborhood) Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was the third child in a family of five. Throughout most of his early childhood he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father, Rafael, worked in the United States. Díaz immigrated to Parlin, New Jersey in December 1974, where he was re-united with his father.
He attended Madison Park Elementary and was a voracious reader, often walking four miles in order to borrow books from his public library. His father abandoned the family in the mid-80s; within months Diaz’s oldest brother was diagnosed with leukemia and the family was plunged into a period of severe poverty. At this time Díaz became fascinated with apocalyptic films and books, especially the work of John Christopher, the original Planet of the Apes films and the BBC mini-series Edge of Darkness. Díaz graduated from Cedar Ridge High School in Old Bridge, New Jersey in 1987.
He attended Kean College in Union, New Jersey for one year before transferring and ultimately completing his BA at Rutgers College in 1992, majoring in English; there he was involved in a creative-writing living-learning residence hall and in various student organizations and was exposed to the authors who would motivate him into becoming a writer: Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros. He worked his way through college by delivering pool tables, washing dishes, pumping gas and working at Raritan River Steel.
After graduating from Rutgers he was employed at Rutgers University Press as an editorial assistant. He earned his MFA from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995, where he wrote most of his first collection. Diaz has said he was stunned when he received an acceptance letter from Cornell because he had not applied there. Apparently his then-girlfriend applied on his behalf. Díaz is active in the Dominican community and teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is also the fiction editor for the Boston Review. He is a founding member of the Voices of Writing Workshop, a writing workshop focused on writers of color.
Won Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2008
His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker magazine which listed him as one of the 20 top writers for the 21st century. He has also been published in Story, The Paris Review and in the anthologies The Best American Short Stories four times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000) and African Voices. He is best known for his two major works: the short story collection Drown (1996) and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). Both were published to critical acclaim and he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the latter.
Diaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September of 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
The stories in Drown focus on the teenage narrator’s impoverished, fatherless youth in the Dominican Republic and his struggle adapting to his new life in New Jersey. Reviews were generally strong but not without complaints. The titles in the collection include “Ysrael”, “Fiesta, 1980”, “Aurora”, “Drown”, “Boyfriend”, “Edison, New Jersey”, “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”, “No Face”, “Negocios”. Diaz read twice for PRI‘s This American Life: “Edison, New Jersey” in 1997 and “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” in 1998. Díaz also published a Spanish translation of’ Drown, entitled Negocios. The arrival of his novel (“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) in 2007 prompted a minor re-appraisal of Diaz’s earlier work. Drown became widely recognized as an important landmark in contemporary literature—ten years after its initial publication—even by critics who had either entirely ignored the book or had given it poor reviews.
Díaz’s first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was published in September 2007. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani characterized Díaz’s writing in the novel as:
a sort of streetwise brand of Spanglish that even the most monolingual reader can easily inhale: lots of flash words and razzle-dazzle talk, lots of body language on the sentences, lots of David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes and asides. And he conjures with seemingly effortless aplomb the two worlds his characters inhabit: the Dominican Republic, the ghost-haunted motherland that shapes their nightmares and their dreams; and America (a.k.a. New Jersey), the land of freedom and hope and not-so-shiny possibilities that they’ve fled to as part of the great Dominican diaspora.
Writing for Time, critic Lev Grossman said that Díaz’s novel was “so astoundingly great that in a fall crowded with heavyweights–Richard Russo, Philip Roth–Díaz is a good bet to run away with the field. You could call The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao… the saga of an immigrant family, but that wouldn’t really be fair. It’s an immigrant-family saga for people who don’t read immigrant-family sagas.”
In addition to the Pulitzer, The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao was awarded the Sargent First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Novel of 2007. The novel was also selected by Time and New York Magazine as the best novel of 2007. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Christian Science Monitor, New Statesman, Washington Post and Publishers Weekly also placed the novel on their Best of 2007 lists.
- “Ysrael” (Story, Autumn 1995)
- “How To Date A Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” (The New Yorker, December 25, 1995)
- “Drown” (The New Yorker, January 29, 1996)
- “Fiesta 1980” (Story, Winter 1996)
- “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars” (The New Yorker, February 2, 1998)
- “Otravida, Otravez” (The New Yorker, June, 21, 1999)
- “Flaca” (Story, Autumn 1999)
- “Nilda” (The New Yorker, October 4, 1999)
- “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (The New Yorker, December 25, 2000)
- “Homecoming, with Turtle” (The New Yorker, June 14, 2004)
- “Wildwood” (The New Yorker, November 18, 2007)
- “Alma” (The New Yorker, December 24, 2007)
- Drown (Riverhead, New York, NY, 1996. ISBN 1573220418)
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead, New York, NY, 2007. ISBN 9781594489587)