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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Wondrous Junot Diaz (This Is How He Keeps You)

Photo by Keith Hood
“These are holy moments, a sacred communion,” Junot Diaz said as he began his November 11, 2012 talk at Lighthouse Writers* in Denver.  He was referring to the brief time he was about to spend with dozens of people crowded into the lower-level grotto of this historic Denver brownstone.   

 “Trust is essential in the teaching process,” Diaz told us. “It usually takes weeks, not just a couple hours.”   

 Of course, the fact that Diaz has not only received a Pulitzer Award for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but was also just recently awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship, meant we were all pretty much ready to trust his genius, as well as his good intentions.  I think the fact that we trusted him right away might also have had something to do with the affectionate way he held his coffee cup.

That’s all we had with him Sunday, though—a little more than a couple of hours.  Within moments, Diaz challenged us to take the truths we thought we knew—those self-righteous belief systems about ourselves—and turn them inside out.  “Truth that doesn’t challenge our arrogance is no truth at all.”

Photo by Keith Hood
With his authenticity firmly established, he jumped into the meat of the session.  But first, a couple of disclaimers from me.  The quotes in these notes are not verbatim.  They are not transcribed from a recording of his talk, but rather were typed in the heat of the moment while I was listening.  And the moments were heated, as in intense—Diaz is passionate about literature.  

 He told us emphatically and numerous times that “literature saved me.”  He also had an endearing way of softly drawing out the word, “Yeah…” –as a question, an entreaty, a challenge, an affectionate way of softly wrapping his oral arms around the audience.  “Yeah…you know what I mean…yeaaaah?”  

 At the end of our time with him, he softly cajoled us, Guys? Questions? You gotta have some questions."

Photo by Keith Hood
Second disclaimer, Junot didn’t talk about the use of the “N” word in his writing (google “Diaz and the   N word” and you’ll find some interesting reading, like this blog on Race and Speculation). Diaz also had an endearing way of using the “F” word, not just in his literature, but conversationally.  I’m including a few uses here because … well, to censor it would be just, well … wouldn’t be very Diazish, now would it?  

Want to read more about Junot's talk? Go to my NEWS page and download  Junot Diaz on Fear and Control in Writing.

*Page Lambert’s notes were taken November 11, 2012, in Denver, Colorado, during the Lighthouse Writers sponsored event, “Junot Diaz on Fear and Control in Writing.”   Thank you Andrea and Michael and all the Lighthouse staff!  And thank you Keith Hood for the use of your photos.