Junot Diaz is a cool, unassuming kind of dude. Low key in glasses and a chocolate brown guyabera, he quietly captivated a stuffed-to-capacity event at local literary mecca Books & Books last Thursday. The event felt like a homecoming for Miami writers – before the reading began, store owner Mitchell Kaplan noted the store’s upcoming 25th anniversary celebration, and asked the writers in the room to reveal themselves by a show of hands. It began as a pathetic smattering, but slowly, about an eighth of the room made themselves known. Then Kaplan pointed out the all-stars. “We’ve got Evelina Galang in front, Diana Abu-Jaber somewhere in back… Geoffrey Philp over here by the window, and Edwidge Danticat,” he said as he indicated the esteemed Haitian writer who sat unassumingly amongst Diaz’s eager fans on the store’s small wooden chairs. Columnist Ana Menendez introduced Diaz, and as a friend of the critically acclaimed writer, she shared a story from their travels with the audience. Then Diaz stepped to the mic and took over.
“How you guys been? How’s Miami? How are you holding up with this war?” he asked. A low mutter emerged from some corners, but the room remained largely silent. “I just thought I’d ask – nobody else is fuckin’ talkin’ about it,” he responded. The ice was broken. The audience laughed, and Diaz began to enchant us all. After reading a stately, sad second-person excerpt from the "Wildwood" section of his latest novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, he fielded a question and answer session. “I’m gonna switch this up and do the q-and-a now, so you all can get outta here and get fucked up… or whatever you do when you’re not supporting the arts,” he said with a sly grin. He took his time with each audience member, regardless of how convoluted or oddly detailed their questions were. And his replies were hilarious and disarmingly honest. “I’ve probably taken something from everything I’ve ever read,” he told one older gentleman who asked about his Latin literature influences. “If you wanna be encouraged as a writer, come to my house and check out my first drafts. Nobody writes worst fucking first drafts than me,” he challenged. “The true power of my work is in the fiftieth rewrite.” That explains why Oscar Wao was a decade in the making. “Some books come easily and some books come hard. This one was carved out of me,” he explained.
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Diaz turned several questions back on the audience, creating a comfortable, classroom-like ambiance. And in every classroom, there’s one annoying person who’s gotta ask an extra-long, extra-analytical question. One guy decided to give a convoluted quote from the book and ask Diaz if he recalled writing that specific sentence. The audience giggled in anticipation of his response. “Y’all are fucked up,” Diaz playfully admonished, before attempting to tackle the gentleman’s question. “I mean… I wanna be like, oh yeah – I totally remember writing that shit! Usually whatever sentence people like best, it’s the one I add just as we’re going to print. It’s like doo-doo-doo… oh, that might work. I write from my conscious. And if your conscious thinks you’re doing a great job, you’re totally blowing it,” he responded. To end the event, Diaz introduced a brief second reading. “So this is just gonna be a short little thing, and then we’ll clap and shit,” he said.
The final reading was from the first chapter, and revealed the roots of fuku, the Dominican curse that Diaz alleges was the real reason for Kennedy’s death. The passage was dark and funny, haunting, interesting and great. Just like the author himself. We can’t wait to read whatever you carve out of yourself next, Junot! -- Patrice Yursik