Do you know why teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor. We appreciate things like Daniel and the lion’s den, and the Tower of Babel. People remember these metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them and that’s what kids like in school. They read about rocket ships and encounters in space, tales of dinosaurs. All my life I’ve been running through the fields and picking up bright objects. I turn one over and say, Yeah, there’s a story.
Junot Díaz has criticized MFA programs for being “too white.” So what’s on his syllabi? Salon found the syllabi for the two courses Díaz teaches at MIT. In his fantasy world-building class, students read everyone from Bram Stoker to Octavia Butler. His advanced fiction course includes stories by Edwidge Danticat and Roberto Bolaño. Where can we sign up?
I guess I assumed that a graduate program full of artists dedicated to seeing beyond the world’s masks would be better on the race front—that despite all my previous experience with white-majority institutions the workshop would be an exception. What can I tell you? In those days I must have needed that little fantasy, that little hope that somewhere shit might be better.
Like I said: I was young.
"I’ve always thought Yunior’s voice isn’t possible without hip-hop," Junot Díaz says. He discusses how hip-hop influenced his writing, his top three albums (Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary Vol. 2., Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, and Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live the Kane), and even Miley Cyrus in an interview with Salon. Previously, we reported that he wrote his first book to the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack.
Depending on your fanboy orientation either the first or second most famous desert planet in nerdom. Again when I saw those landscapes in Star Wars I felt a surge of kinship. Shit, on first viewing I also thought my man’s name was Juan Kenobi. But that’s what happens when you’re an immigrant kid of color in a culture that erases your community completely. You start inventing filiations.
When we were talking about Jamaica Kincaid’s book See Now Then, it was difficult to ignore the strange reception the book was getting. The little gossipmongers Dwight Garner and Sam Sacks just couldn’t bear not dredging up Kincaid’s personal life, speculating that the divorce in the novel was identical to her divorce in real life, and telling her she should have kept the book in a drawer somewhere.
Not liking See Now Then is a legitimate response to a book. It’s a weird book, and prickly, and there were times I was convinced I didn’t like it either, although I warmed to it. But there was something a little gross about those reviews. But it’s so boring and trite to just call out Sexism!, isn’t it? Because we know all the pathways that saying someone is being sexist opens up. They are narrow and limited and none of them end in good places. And it’s hard to prove unconscious motivations.
But I got a very interesting email from a reader, who would like to remain anonymous, but gave me permission to reprint.Hi,
I’m enjoying your coverage of Jamaica Kincaid’s book and the attending, in my opinion, biased sexist press. It’s interesting that Junot Diaz’s recent mediocre to poor story collection was a depiction of his relationships etc… (he’s copped to it in interviews) and the press/reviews mostly praised it as art, and nominated it for awards… The New York Times book reviewer even called the narrator Díaz’s alter ego! The narcissism and self-indulgence of those stories is epic…
Whereas Kincaid is being called out for being self-indulgent, vindictive etc and her reviews have been terrible to mixed. I also wonder whether Diaz’s position as a Pulitzer judge has influenced his books’ reception by reviewers and the vitriol towards Kincaid more weighted because Kincaid’s ex is a public figure (vs. the relative anonymity—and their deafening silence in the stories—of Díaz’s women).
I love this email. And I thank its sender for allowing me to reprint it.
Junot Diaz reads from his new collection.
There was a silence about depression in the larger culture that I inhabit but even in my own work. I thought [it] would be great to break [that silence] a bit. But again you end up organizing this stuff as an artist. So you do this weird shit where you plot the mental breakdown through the whole book. And you hope that the nerds will figure it out and if not – fuck it – you hope that someday someone else will just enjoy it on another level.
But depression fucking sucks, dude. Depression sucks. And part of you thinks, ‘Well if I have to deal with being fucking depressed, I’ll figure out some way to make some art out of it.’
"No, Yunior is not a bad guy, but he is growing up, and as Diaz is honest enough to admit in this collection, getting older isn’t necessarily all mellowing out and seeing the error in your youthful ways. Sometimes, it seems, you can spend your whole life clowning, turning all that rage into jokes designed to make the very people who anger you most laugh the hardest, and then one day that stops working. You’ve done it – you’re a success, a big-deal professor read by millions, and still you’re pissed off."
- Michael Bourne, “The ‘You’ in Yunior: Junot Diaz’s This Is How You lose Her.”