Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz)

Author Bio 
Birth—December 31, 1968
Where—Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Reared—Parlin, New Jersey, USA
Education—B.A., Rugters; M.F.A., Cornell
Awards—Eugene McDermott Award, Guggenheim Fellowship,
  National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, PEN/Malamud
  Award, , Rome Prize from American Academy of Arts and
  Sciences, National Book Critics Circle Award
Currently—New York, New York and Boston, Massachusetts

Junot Díaz was born in Villa Juana, a barrio in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was the third child in a family of five. Throughout most of his early childhood he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father worked in the United States. In December, 1974, at the age of six, Díaz immigrated to Parlin, New Jersey, where he was re-united with his father.

He attended Kean College in Union, New Jersey for one year before transferring and ultimately completing his BA at Rutgers College in 1992, majoring in English; there he was involved in a creative-writing living-learning residence hall and in various student organizations and was exposed to the authors who would motivate him into becoming a writer: Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros. He worked his way through college: delivering pool tables, washing dishes, pumping gas and working at Raritan River Steel.

After graduating from Rutgers he was employed at Rutgers University Press as an editorial assistant. He earned his MFA from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995, where he wrote most of his first collection. Diaz has said he was stunned when he received an acceptance letter from Cornell because he had not applied there. Apparently his then-girlfriend applied on his behalf.

Díaz is active in Dominican community and teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is also the fiction editor for the Boston Review. He is a founding member of the Voices of Writing Workshop, a writing workshop focused on writers of color.

His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker magazine which listed him as one of the 20 top writers for the 21st century. He has also been published in Story, Paris Review, and in the anthologies Best American Short Stories four times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000), and African Voices. He is best known for his two major works: the short story collection Drown (1996) and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). Both were published to critical acclaim.

He has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won the 2007 Sargant First Novel Prize and was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September of 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

The stories in Drown focus on the teenage narrator's impoverished, fatherless youth in the Dominican Republic and his struggle adapting to his new life in New Jersey. Reviews were generally strong but not without numerous complaints.

The arrival of his novel (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) in 2007 prompted a minor re-appraisal of Diaz's earlier work. His first book "Drown" was now being widely recognized as an important landmark in contemporary literature—ten years after publication—even by critics who had either entirely ignored the book or had given it poor reviews.

Díaz's first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was released in September 2007. (An excerpt from the novel had appeared previously in The New Yorker's 2007 Summer Fiction issue.) Writing in Time magazine critic Lev Grossman said that Díaz's novel was...

so astoundingly great that in a fall crowded with heavyweights—Richard Russo, Philip Roth—Díaz is a good bet to run away with the field. You could call The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the saga of an immigrant family, but that wouldn't really be fair. It's an immigrant-family saga for people who don't read immigrant-family sagas. The family in question emigrated from the Dominican Republic and consists of a mother, a son and a daughter—the father having done a runner some years earlier.

The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao was awarded the Sargent First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Novel of 2007. The novel was selected by Time and New York Magazine as the best novel of 2007. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Christian Science Monitor, New Statesman, Washington Post and Publishers Weekly also placed the novel on their Best of 2007 lists. A poll by National Book Critics Circle ranked The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as the most recommended novel by their members.

His 2012 This Is How You Lose Her is a collection of nine short stories unified by a central character, Yunior, the narrator of several stories in Drown. The stories follow hardheaded Yunior, falling in out of relationships as he yearns for love. The book has earned Junot high praise.

About his own work and artistic outlook Diaz offered these insights...

Place was never something I took for granted, not when I had two geographies in my heart. I take special pleasure in naming things as well as I can, since all I was taught as a kid was to give things false names. Or to give them no name at all. I find these public/private discussions repressive whether they're being generated from within our community or without. How in the world can anyone form an authentic self when there are so many damn rules about how one should act in the world? Us writers, we're just throwing words up into the wind, hoping that they will carry, and someone, somewhere, sometime, will have a use for them. (Biography from Wikipedia.)

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