Where Not Quite Everybody Knows Your Name

November 29, 2008

Junot Diaz, who won the Pulitzer for The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, gave an unorthodox reading in a New York bar recently.  It’s amusing.  (And they also went ahead and used the only appropriate title for a post about this subject.)  Preview:

“This was one of the stranger readings I’ve been to. I sat at the end of the bar opposite Díaz, far enough away that I couldn’t see him over the crowd, although I could hear him, barely. Barely because of the two guys sitting just a few feet away from me — a couple of aggrieved regulars, whom we’ll call Red and the Dude. Red was big and Irish and annoyed, and he groused, none too politely, as he pounded back his beer.”

From my single, brief experience with Diaz, the whole story doesn’t seem that surprising.  He gave a reading at Northwestern last year: about two dozen students, the creative writing faculty, a few more professors, a table of food, and a stack of his books crowded into the room that seems to house the English Department’s dissertations and rare books collection.  (I should be able to better describe this room, considering that I’m, erm, one of this department’s students.) 

He taught me three things: “fuck” has meanings you didn’t even know existed (and, pace Rudy, if you’re using it well enough, you don’t need a noun, a verb, or 9/11 to form your sentences), the greatest cultural contribution of Star Wars and George Lucas was to provide examples for impromptu lessons in narrative/storytelling form and structure, and that engineers while make bad writers, they’re almost uniformly good writing students.  And that creative writing faculty don’t know what they’re doing because they’ve never asked themselves what they’re supposed to be doing.  (Needless to say, the creative writing faculty took exception to this last point.)

All in all, he amused me for about an hour; my notes from it are in Evanston so I can’t pull any particular line to share.  The man has a vivacious personality, and knows how to hold a room; not a skill every writer has.  It was enough for me to go out and read Drown, which I thought a rather well-written collection of stories.  (I’d even picked up a few derogatory Spanish terms by the end of it.)  I haven’t gotten around to Wao yet, though it’s on my list (my list is rather long, however, so it may be some time).


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