Pulitzer-Prize winning author Junot Diaz talks race, writing at Blanton Museum

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz reads his book “The Brief Wondeous Life of Oscar Wao” to an audience at the Blanton Auditorium on Monday evening. Diaz’s complex characters often reflect his own experiences as a Dominican-American Immigrant.  

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

In a discussion on the role that race and other minority statuses play in creating art, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz said he felt UT students should be more concerned about the societal implication of recently reported bleach bombings in West Campus.

When asked about two incidents involving water balloons thrown at minority students this school year, Diaz said he felt a stronger community response was warranted. 

“Institutionally, the absolute lack of safety and disregard that that represents for a certain community of the school [is something] I think should chill everyone,” Diaz said, responding to a question from an audience member. “If there‘s not an energetic response from every member and every sector of the institution, that’s an extraordinary thing.”

Diaz read a selection from his award-winning 2008 novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and engaged guests in a Q-and-A session at the Blanton Museum of Art on Monday. He spoke as part of the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies series, “Reading Race in Literature and Film.”

French professor Alexandra Wettlaufer, whose class reads “Oscar Wao,” said she was excited to hear Diaz speak.

“It was great to hear him speak because he has such a great voice in his novels, and I think in person he has a very distinctive voice and way of connecting to the audience which breaks down barriers,” Wettlaufer said. “You felt like he was talking directly to each one of us, and I feel like there’s that same energy and creative explosions in the way he speaks that we fell in love with in ‘Oscar Wao,’ ‘[This Is] How You Lose Her’ and his other stories.”

Diaz spoke about his ties to the Caribbean and the impact of masculine gender stereotypes on his life, an issue he said affects society as a whole today.

Recently Diaz wrote a piece called “Monstro” for The New Yorker, which takes place in Haiti and falls into the science fiction realm. Those who attended the event asked him how he found himself writing about a post-apocalyptic world.

“Science fiction allows us to really see what happened in the Caribbean where realism doesn’t,” Diaz said.

English senior Omar Gamboa said he read “Oscar Wao” in a freshman English class and he simply had to see the author in person.

“His work really strikes a chord for me, reminding me of home, the machismo I grew up with and just, well, being a hopeful nerd in the midst of it all,” Gambao said.