Javier Suarez

“This is a Conversation”

Junot Díaz discusses power and representation at UofC talk

How did the women in your life react to This is How You Lose Her?” a student from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School asked Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winning author Junot Díaz. Díaz lurched his head back a little and grinned; this was the kind of boldness he was hoping for from the audience, but from its youngest members especially—the willingness, as he explained earlier, to engage with those perceived as more powerful.

Power was a prominent theme on October 19, as Díaz spoke with the lively crowd during his sold-out talk held at the University of Chicago. Díaz was freeform in the topics he approached, answering audience-driven questions about his writing process and about the effects that living in a dominantly white culture have had on his writing. The experience of immigrating from the Dominican Republic to the United States at age six, he said, left an imprint on his psyche that resonates throughout all his work. One of his main goals as a writer is to disentangle literature from the hegemony of the Western canon by promoting writers of color, commending authors such as Sandra Cisneros for their vivid depictions of the minutiae of life as a person of color. “No matter what we [people of color] do,” he said, “we’re automatically challenging structures.”

“This is a conversation…let’s talk!” Diaz announced early on. His demeanor during the talk was loose and improvisational, perhaps meant to counteract the trope of the “aloof literary type.” He cussed casually and addressed the audience as “man,” strolling across the stage in worn jeans. Before he began reading excerpts from This is How You Lose Her, his collection of short stories often criticized for the representation of its female characters, he asked a female audience member to hand him a copy. He thanked the woman for not throwing the book at him.

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