After another wonderful night out exploring new restaurants and bars in Melbourne (stop by over the next few weeks to find out which ones) Iced Vovo got a strong morning coffee and headed back to Federation Square to catch In conversation with Junot Diaz speaking with The Book Club’s Jennifer Byrne.
Winner of Pulitzer Prize and Macarthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship, and billed as “one of the most exciting and powerful literary voices of our generation” Diaz discussed his life, becoming ‘famous’ and latest collection of short stories about the haunting, impossible power of love, This Is How You Lose Her.
Diaz started by talking about the “universal identity”. He said that he felt it was a myth to think that artists are, or can be, everything to everybody. He said all artists are influenced by their locality but it’s not all they are, we are, of course, complex beings.
Moving to the US from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic when he was six he referred to his military upbringing and how his father’s strict rules had an impact on his life. “The dood brought a gun to the dinner table so I knew from a young age he was fuckin’ crazy!” He said that kids today have a different kind of narrative with their parents and gave the anecdote of his family’s immigration stating that he was never asked or told that they were leaving in fact his mother just told him they were taking a trip to the airport but said nothing about never coming back, nor even getting the chance to say farewell to his Grandparents.
He also spoke about “consequences moving forward and backward in time and that we don’t realise that the decisions that we make a trans-generational”. Perhaps that is why we often do end up being like our parents to some degree?
When asked by Byrne what his thoughts about winning the Pulitzer were, he replied, “That’s utter fucking random shit!” He went on to give a funny anecdote about it not impressing his ex-fiance as she still left him despite winning the Prize!
Diaz said that it took him ten years to write his second book The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao after his first book Drown and that he knew from the outset that it was going to be difficult. Not because he was trying to win a prize but because there’s “a self consciousness that you are aware of as an artist” and that he was struggling all the time with trying to steer clear of pretension and being trite and in writing something that was meaningful.
In his latest book This Is How You Lose Her, Diaz wanted to explore masculinity. He said, “It is hard to strip ourselves bare, we put up barriers and cheat because it is often too hard to truly expose ourselves to another.” He said that observations of his male friends and their attitudes helped shape the book but said he steers clear of basing any characters etc directly on anyone he knows as it ‘messes’ with the relationship but that “they still think I’m writing about them anyway”.
What resonated was what he called “the culture of responsibility”. This came on the back of an audience question asking why he swears, his need to say, “fuck”, often. He said it was all about being authentic. If cuss words are what you use, so what? Why do we have language that is only acceptable in certain situations environments etc.
I thought this was so true. As someone who loves to use ‘colourful language’, and does it often reflexively, (I had a ‘potty mouth’ as a kid and no it didn’t come from my parents, it has always been just part of how I express myself!) I started to think about how I’m often viewed or characterised by others. Afterwards at the book signing I spoke to Diaz about this and said how I felt that it was even more difficult for women to get away with swearing. His reply was, “Fuck yes! My sister also loves to swear and she gets viewed as some fucking slut for it!”
Diaz is currently working on a Science Fiction novel and is reading a lot within that genre for inspiration. He said that the best way for a writer to learn how to write is to “immerse yourself in the form. Read everything you can get your hands on in that genre and you’ll know and understand the conventions to write your own.”
He also commented on seeing “market forces pushing certain literacies” such as the current obsession with Vampire Fiction and that “the space for contemplation has decreased been depleted” by new technologies such as Facebook, Twitter etc. People fill their time with these new technologies rather than sitting and thinking or reading and that this is, has, already had an impact on writing.