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Featuring Junot Díaz, a great interview with the Boston Review

Junot Díaz photo
Junot Díaz Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing

“If it’s done well, then you get both the ugliness that comes out of showing how people really are around issues like race and gender, but also a hidden underlying counter-current that puts in front of you the very real, very personal, consequences of these orientations.”

Two months back, ahead of CMS/WHS associate professor Junot Díaz’s latest story’s appearance in the New Yorker, Díaz had a conversation with writer Paula M.L. Moya. The two were classmates in graduate school, so the interview, published in this month’s Boston Review, is so appealingly personal—and, to those outside academic discussions of fiction, a great look in:

Paula: I wanted to ask you about something else you said in the lecture yesterday. You said you wanted to, and thought you could, “figure out a way to represent most honestly–represent in the language, and represent in the way people talk, and represent in the discourse–what [you], just one person, thought was a racial reality,” but without endorsing that reality. You indicated that you aim to realistically represent “our entire insane racial logic” but in a way that “the actual material does not endorse that reality” at the level of structure. This is certainly what I would argue your work succeeds in doing. But I would like to hear more about how you go about creating, at the level of structure, a disjuncture between the realistic representation of race and an endorsement of the racial logic on which the representation is based.

Junot: The things I say. [Laughs] OK, let me see if I can make sense of my own damn self. Let’s see if I can speak to the actual texts. Well, at its most simplistic in, say, Drown, we have a book where racist shit happens–but it’s not like at a thematic level the book is saying: Right on, racist shit! I was hoping that the book would expose my characters’ race craziness and that this craziness would strike readers, at the very minimum, as authentic. But exposing our racisms, etc., accurately has never seemed to be enough; the problem with faithful representations is that they run the risk of being mere titillation or sensationalism. In my books, I try to show how these oppressive paradigms work together with the social reality of the characters to undermine the very dreams the characters have for themselves. So, Yunior thinks X and Y about people and that logic is, in part, what fucks him up. Now if the redounding is too blunt and obvious, then what you get is a moralistic parable and not literature. But, if it’s done well, then you get both the ugliness that comes out of showing how people really are around issues like race and gender, but also a hidden underlying counter-current that puts in front of you the very real, very personal, consequences of these orientations.

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Andrew Whitacre
Written by
Andrew Whitacre

Andrew directs the communications efforts for CMS/W and its research groups. A native of Washington, D.C., he holds a degree in communication from Wake Forest University, with a minor in humanities, as well as an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College.

This work includes drawing up and executing strategic communications plans, with projects including website design, social media management and training, press outreach, product launches, fundraising campaign support, and event promotions.

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Andrew Whitacre Written by Andrew Whitacre