Tag Archives: Junot Diaz

Eat the world

I’ve never suffered from that strange malady called writer’s block, but I have had times when I’ve felt stale and uncreative. At such times, I turn to author interviews — not just short items, but serious interviews in which both parties are fully engaged on a creative and intellectual level. The best place to find them is in The Paris Review, but they can turn up anywhere and they never fail to clear away the cobwebs and renew my eagerness to get on with the work.

Jeff VanderMeer’s interview with the much-laureled writer Junot Diaz meets that standard and then some. Not only is it a fine interview, but the closing line is like a double-caffeinated shot of whiskey for any writer.     

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Oscar wow

Junot Diaz has sure come a ways in the world since I interviewed him, lo those many years ago. I had read his short story “Edison, New Jersey” in the Paris Review, and since I wrote for a newspaper that covered Middlesex County I sought him out — after all, how many times does one expect to see Edison name-checked in the Paris Review. For the purposes of my newspaper, the Diaz article was a hat trick — Diaz was born in the Dominican Republic but raised in London Terrace, with connections to Elizabeth, and a degree from Rutgers University in New Brunswick. All three coverage areas in one story! High five, baby!

What made the article truly enjoyable, of course, was the quality of the man’s work, which was demonstrated many times over when his story collection Drown appeared in bookstores. Since then, the guy’s had a charmed career. His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, appeared after a long interval and was garlanded with rave reviews and a Pulitzer Prize. Now another collection, This Is How You Lose Her, is out just in time for Diaz to score a genius grant. And now he’s going to write a science fiction novel. More power to him.

All I ask is that the Nobel committee wait a decent interval before giving Diaz a call. He’d have nowhere to go after that, and I want this good-guy-finishes-first story to keep rolling.   

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Re: Writing

Stephen King reviews Carol Sklenicka’s new biography of Raymond Carver and shudders at Carver’s poisonous relationship with Gordon Lish, editor and self-appointed Svengali: “in 1973, when my first novel was accepted for publication, I was in similar straits: young, endlessly drunk, trying to support a wife and two children, writing at night, hoping for a break. The break came, but until reading Sklenicka’s book, I thought it was the $2,500 advance Doubleday paid for Carrie. Now I realize it may have been not winding up with Gordon Lish as my editor.”

Junot Diaz does a lot of writing in the bathroom. Edwidge Danticat starts with a collage. Russell Banks can only write nonfiction on a computer — fiction he does longhand. All part of How to Write a Great Novel.


Betcha by golly Wao

Jeff Sypeck spends some quality time with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and finds it stirring up Central Jersey memories and stories. I’m always astonished to hear how many other people have taken that scary trek along the railroad bridge spanning the Raritan River.

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Literary landscape

Our northern nabes have launched Project Bookmark Canada with the idea of creating a coast-to-coast “trail of plaques containing literary excerpts of some of this country’s most geographically specific works.” The whole thing was recently launched in Toronto with a plaque bearing a passage from Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, a novel I haven’t read but which apparently touches on the construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct.

I’d love to see an American equivalent of this project. In fact, I know just the place to start it: the Albany Street Bridge ‘cross the less-than-mighty Raritan River, twixt New Brunswick and Highland Park, which prompted this observation by Junot Diaz in his story collection Drown: “New Brunswick … a nice city, the Raritan so low and silty you don’t have to be Jesus to walk over it.”

Well . . . maybe the town fathers won’t be so keen on that passage. But it would be great to see America hosting more projects like this, or the Ted Hughes Poetry Trail in Devon.

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Super Sunday podcast alert

I heard there was some kind of big deal professional sports event going on today. In case you don’t give a damn, or you need something to drown out the game playing in the next room, there’s a dynamite podcast waiting for you at the Lannan Foundation, where you can listen in as Junot Diaz, author of the Pulitzer-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, shares the podium with SF legend Samuel R. Delany. Meanwhile, Bat Segundo  has posted talks with Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and the recent Things I’ve Been Silent About, and David Denby, the New Yorker film critic whose denunciation of snarkiness has been getting lots of snarky reviews. And Melvyn Bragg talks about just how close to the bone satire can get.

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Friday finds

Authors beware! Morgan James Publishing may not be all that it claims to be. And here’s what Morgan James says in response.

How big a geek are you? Dare to take this quiz on all the nerd-lore encased within Junot Diaz’ The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

It’s back-to-school headaches for Jeff and Geoff.

Stephen Jay Gould meets J.R.R. Tolkien by way of Haldir and toys based on the Burgess Shale fossils. An utterly charming post from Michael Drout at Wormtalk and Slugspeak.

In his blog Street Use, Kevin Kelly shows how people adapt technology for their own purposes.

Musing on mazes and locating labyrinths.

If the Green Party is too mainstream for you, consider this.

Check out Nick’s novel, and Joe’s song.

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