Friday, February 29, 2008

Interview with Junot Diaz

Maya Jaggi interviews Junot Díaz.
Like the "ghetto nerd" Oscar Wao of his latest fiction, Junot Díaz was an avid consumer of SF and fantasy. Wrested from the Dominican Republic aged six, and brought with his family to New Jersey, he found that only such fiction captured his experience. There are "historical extremes in the Americas that are difficult for the mind to grasp: it's hard to convince people the Caribbean was a 300-year-long Auschwitz. Migration is like having your house burn down with everything in it, and only whispers left of what went before. Yet in genres I found descriptions of these very extremes: endless genetic breeding; time travel; leaving one world and being miraculously teleported to another."

Still on the move and with a gym bag over his shoulder, Díaz is speaking in a coffee shop near his London publishers. He has an apartment in East Harlem, teaches creative writing at MIT (for which post he thanks a mentor, Anita Desai), and is spending a year at the American Academy in Rome, grateful for the cuisine, but homesick for his fiancée, a "big-time lawyer" in New York. Yet he returns every month to New Jersey, to the same childhood friends. "I've travelled far from where I grew up, but I'm still stubbornly attached to it," he says. "Migration was so hard for me; I felt I'd lost so many worlds that I didn't want to lose another."
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