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Last night I once again made the 60 mile drive out to LA to see an author talk- this time Junot Diaz, author of Drown, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and his most recent collection, This is How You Lose Her. Luckily enough a friend joined me, so tackling the Art Walk traffic wasn’t too terrible. The event was put on by new-to-me Writers Bloc (they’re fall programs are amazing- Martin Amis is being interviewed by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner next week, and then later in October Nick Hornby will working with them) at the Los Angeles Theater Center. The place ended up being packed- they actually started thirty minutes late in order to accommodate the crowd. The delay was worth it- Diaz is one of the most articulate, intellectual, culturally aware (and profane) authors I’ve ever listened to.
Since he was obviously there to promote his new collection of short stories, I found it odd that he didn’t actually read from them. Honestly, I liked this- I don’t really feel the need to hear someone read a book I’ve either already read or have never even opened. I much rather hear what the person has to say and observe his interactions with the moderator and audience. Speaking of the moderator, Christian Lander, author of Stuff White People Like, kept the night moving, serving as a sharp contrast to the racially-charged Dominican writer.
A great deal of the night was dedicated to the discussion of race- Diaz is extremely informed and involved in the Dominican community. He claims that he is a part of a “disappearing” race- he feels that while Latino numbers are increasing in the United States they are still not being heard socially or politically. He brought up some valid points, claiming that if all of the white people were “voted off the island” this idea of “white supremacy” would still exist- a new hierarchy would form and minority groups would still be plagued by the troubles they experience. His perception of race, despite that fact that he was definitely pointing out the flaws of my people, were realistic- he doesn’t expect a drastic, immediate revolution any time soon. Part of the problem, he claims, is that white people aren’t afraid of minorities, like they were in 1960s with African Americans and the Civil Rights movement. There are problems that need to be fixed, and Diaz seemed hopeful that younger generations would help bring about change.
Diaz also spoke about his life as a writer and his three works, especially during the Q & A portion of the evening. He covered the basics like masculinity and race in his books, as well as obstacles his characters face growing up. He spoke on the actual act of writing- it has taken him over a decade to write each of his novels, something that is evident in the careful crafting of both the characters and plot. I think something that I greatly appreciated, and have been struggling to get through to my students, is his brief discussion on how readers need to interact with the text. Reading literature should not be done in the same way you read the back of the cereal box or an article on who Blake Lively married last weekend (they are going to have the ugliest babies, by the way). Reading is a conversation between the author and the reader with plenty of room for interpretation. He also provided several titles of Latin American works to read- we’ll see if this white girl can decipher the titles.
I’ll end with my favorite quote of the night: “Talking about art is like kissing- you rather fucking do it.”