Pulitzer Prize-winning author, activist, and MIT creative writing professor Junot Díaz spoke to a large crowd in Mandel Hall on Monday night.
His talk, which focused on his writing and life as a person of color, was part of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs’ (OMSA) Heritage Series. The series, according to OMSA’s website, allows guest speakers to address current events as they impact multicultural communities.
Díaz discussed his voracious reading habits, his time in Mexico City, his job teaching creative writing at MIT, and his art in general. A Dominican immigrant who grew up in a poor household, Díaz spoke at length about how his heritage has intersected with other facets of his life.
Before the talk, Díaz participated in a small question and answer session held by the Center for Identity and Inclusion. Rachel DeWoskin, core faculty in the creative writing department, introduced Díaz at the Q&A.
“Junot Díaz is an inimitable voice in contemporary literature, someone willing to break rules and embrace difficulty and contradiction. He gave our community, particularly those who have felt marginalized, ways to imagine making art and being able to be—and express—themselves,” DeWoskin wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon.
When asked how he separates his art from his activism, Díaz explained that the two should not be mutually exclusive. He contended that poor artists or artists of color are considered revolutionaries because of their identities, and their work is often politicized.
Díaz thinks this politicization, though unintended, is sometimes beneficial. “You could set yourself up to introduce themes that are not normally a part of the conversation,” Díaz said.
Díaz, 46, published his first novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in 2007 and subsequently won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His second collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, was published in 2012 to received critical acclaim.
Díaz claimed that despite the awards, most of his immediate family is either unaware or uninterested in his success. Even some of his MIT students, the majority of whom plan on going into STEM, are oblivious.
“[Former students] will write me cards, years later, on the letter heads of the companies they’ve started. They say, ‘I read about you in the paper! I didn’t know you wrote books!’” he said.
He accepts these comments with humility and humor, attributing much of his success to luck. “I’m nothing special and no genius,” he said.