Book Club

Replay: Live Chat with Junot Díaz

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On January 3, 2013, we hosted a live chat with Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction author Junot Díaz. He answered questions from BillMoyers.com readers about his short stories and novel, the literature classes he teaches at MIT and the art of writing fiction.

Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. His most recent book, This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories, was released last fall.

Use the box below to replay our live chat with Díaz.

Our live chat followed Bill Moyers’ interview with Díaz, in which he shared some sharp, witty and wise insights on what Moby Dick and Star Wars have to tell us about the new American story and finding our voice. He also told Bill how he was introduced to libraries as a child and why they inspired him.

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  • Eric S

    Question for Junot:

    In an interview of you talking about your MFA experience at Cornell, you talked about how your fellow peer, Stuart O’Nan, showed a “colossal seriousness” that you don’t see in young MFA students today. Towards what and in what ways was he serious? What made him different than young MFA students today?

  • Anonymous

    If you were the main character in Ready Player One, which video game from the 80s would you have been the most successful with in gaining the copper key?

  • Patty

    Taking a page from Jose Marti, how would you talk to religious groups and non-religious, non-believing communities in an effort to “take possessive investment in each others communities’ struggles? What role do you see for education and community organizations in bridging the divide? How can we cultivate the Marti mind? Thank you!

  • Young Teacher

    Question For Junot:
    Your stories truly shine a light on places that the establishment chooses to avoid. But what type of light can we really expect an American president to shine? What use do you find in cajoling Obama to tell a better story when, by virtue of his position, any story he tells will inevitably try to shine a light away from the millions of lives destroyed by his policies of war and deportation?

  • Neilson

    Question for Junot:

    I’m an an aspiriing fiction writer and playwright. I can’t help but notice that in This is How You Lose her, you use ‘Me and my pathetic little crew’ in Nilda. I’ve seen this used in The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, too. My question is: Why is it that you use the object pronoun instead of the subject pronoun when writing in first person plural?

  • abayomi manrique

    Greetings Mr. Moyers,
    I want to wish you and your family all the best in the coming year and beyond. Special thanks for all the good work that you do. Since I discovered you and your program (s) I and through your exceptional guests I have been given an education like no other. Thanks for having Mr. Diaz on your show. I especially wanted to get to know him better after reading his prize winning novel and becoming aware that he was an island-man (I am from Trinidad and Tobago). A few years ago I wanted to organize a book signing event in Atlanta with him but he had recently won the pulitzer prize and so he was extremely busy. Unfortunately, that book signing event never happened. So, I am very happy for this interview which allowed me to get a very good idea of the progressive mind set of Mr. Diaz. I am very happy that he has not left his islandness behind. Viva Senor Diaz, viva republica dominicana, and viva los paises del caribe.

  • abayomi manrique

    Greetings All,
    My question for Mr. Diaz is: How would you characterize the Caribbean novel today and how does it differ from the Caribbean novel of the pre and post independence period, irrespective of the colonial language imposed upon it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685161217 Robin A. Quarles

    You talked about the myth of a post racial soceity. Do you believe that intersectionality and colorblindness are a threat to having a real conversation about race in this country?

  • Amy Zimmer

    Thank you for having Mr. Diaz on your show…very thought provoking. I was most profoundly struck when he said that Obama hasn’t given us a story. As a 27 year veteran teacher, as a world traveler, and a bleeding heart liberal (American Jew), I believe this is my biggest disappointment in the president thus far. I am still hoping he will kick some butt and give us a great story about how the disinfranchised (jncluding the environment) won the war on greed.

  • DHR

    “This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly, but still sadly to me. I will quit it, lest Truth shake me falsely.”

    Starbuck was referring to his thoughts about religion. It applies just as well to Junot’s Pequod or his America. The image as opposed to the actual.

    “And this tattooing, had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by his hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Quequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and be unsolved to the last.”

    And so, given the above, perhaps the Pequod does serve as a metaphor for America. It seems to fit. That’s what epics do. I prefer to think of the Pequod as the earth and the ocean as the Cosmos. I think Melville’s objective was to tell a story much larger than the Pequod as America…something Dantesque or Homeric. We are all a Quequeg in ways yet probably not as wise as he or Pip.

  • Anonymous

    Yes thank you for interviewing professor Diaz. However, I disagree I think President Obama has a great story but he is not a provocateur. He’s telling it as we tell it together. What do you think?

  • Lynn from Oakland

    My questions for Mr. Diaz are: Do you think that, as of today, we have an underlying and relevant myth in America that serves to pull us together as a society with some common goals or values? My feeling is that we do not and this is why our culture has become so fragmented and there are so many disparate groups searching so fervently for something strong enough to feel like a valid underpinning as to what America should strive to be. If you agree that America has a “myth-void,” do you think it is possible for us to find one that can be applicable to so many people from so many diverse backgrounds who are free to pursue happiness as they see fit?

  • Leo

    Waddup, Junot.

    I remember you saying something about how the economy has saturated education. About how students nowadays talk in BusinessSpeak or Whatever You Call It and prepare for their entry into the so-called work force.

    Do you think that story might change given the changing style of the voices that we are used to hearing speak from a position of privilege or power or success? How strong is BusinessSpeak and wtf are some alternatives?

  • asil

    Roman fell in it’s final existence under a EURO LATIN cultural make up: Is it possible for the USA which is coming into a majority Latin/Hispanic population intertwined with a strong White European cultural existance. Do you see comparisons or parallels and how is this contemporary cultural make up different? Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/LizPangerl LizPangerl

    Junot Diaz is the voice for the new millennium — a voice of color and reason with a mind that dazzles and a beauty that arrests. I’m hooked.

  • Ruth

    A question for Junot Diaz:
    Why does the narrator in the short story “Drown” remain unidentified by name whereas most (if not all) of the characters in the rest of the collection of Drown are identified? Is this anonymity tied to homophobia and shame? Is it specifically about homophobia in the Latino community? Lastly, thank you for your powerful and thought-provoking writing.

  • Dana Meyer

    What a thought-provoking interview…thank you! Question for Professor Diaz: if you could magically change America’s education system overnight, what would you change first?

  • Jo Canuk

    When I was a child I lived in London, England, the child of Scottish, Irish and London people. I was brought up to love and respect my heritage. I never witnessed violence or animosity from Irish people in all my 15 years there. When I came to Canada I was upset to find Irish Canadians making assumptions about me based on my accent. Junot, I want to thank you for your discussion on the silence that hangs around in societies with loaded history. You have named what I experienced. The Irish in London in the ’70s 80′s couldn’t afford to voice grievances, and it was only when I left that I started to discover what being English means to so many people, and I’m glad that I learned this lesson, as it opened my eyes to the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ErikinPDX Erik Littlefeather

    I have so admiration it’s silly.

  • cd coleman

    Question: In your interview with Mr. Moyers, you mentioned teaching courses in the new bildungsroman and apocalyptic narrative. Would you mind sharing some of the texts you teach in those two courses? Thank you.

  • Liz

    Very much enjoyed this show. Please have Mr. Diaz back again. I am interested in his perspective.

  • Liz

    Question for Mr. Diaz:
    You are teaching at one of the most elite colleges in the United States. Do you feel any calling to work with students who are less advantaged?

  • S. Myles

    Great interview! My question for Professor Diaz is, how did you determine the inclusion and sequence of stories in This Is How You Lose Her? Particularly the story Otravida, Otravez, especially as it wasn’t from Yunior’s perspective?

  • Linda Moran

    Mr Diaz:
    I had the privilege of seeing your engaging presentation at the Vancouver Writers Festival this past October. I was wondering what advice you might give to teachers to provide the spark that encourages more reading, and more reading about different cultures. Also, your humour and wit is entwined in your writing. What importance do you place on humour for understanding cultural diversity? Are there any Canadian authors you have read?
    As one of the many volunteers at the festival, I have to say that there are many of us who would have liked to sit down with you over coffee, or whatever, and just talk with you. Hoping your next novel is published in less than 12 years. Thank you!

  • Pat OBannon

    Caucasoid? Did you make that up or did a student really say that? Fact or fiction? Memory or imagination? Love your stuff, spoken and in print.

  • Denise

    Hi, would appreciate any comments about the discipline of writing. Thank you.

  • Cynthia

    It was great to be a student in Junot Diaz’s classroom this past Sunday evening; your interview was thought provoking, inspiring, and affirming. I teach ESL to a small, but very diverse group of high school students. We read Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street and Steinbeck’s The Pearl along with some stories by Amy Tan and Jhumpa Lahiri every year. What would you add to my reading list?

  • Joe-from P-Town ForeverPassaic

    Junot,
    It’s been several years since we chatted in New Brunswick, in part about our common experiences,both studying English at Rutgers and my time as student at Don Bosco Tech. I listened to your discussion of Moby Dick with Mr. Moyers and was reminded that
    it took a generation before that book gained popularity. (No Pulitzer or Mac
    Arthur for Melville- off to the NYC customs office.) Are there any writers
    today you think are too ahead of their time, for whom it will take a generation
    to be appreciated? If so, who? And why are they not appreciated today?
    PS.Thanks for the nickname.

  • Anonymous

    Melville is not here to consult with but he may have had other things in mind. Almost all ships of that era were made up of mixed racial groups.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.martinie Bill Martinie

    What are your thoughts about what I think of as the ‘Nat Turner/William Styron” problem? What I mean is, do you think that fiction writers should not be able to attempt to write about the experience of someone else’s race? Styron took a lot of heat for trying to write from Nat Turner’s perspective (especially being a SOUTHERN white man). Would you be troubled by someone trying to write from inside the mind of a Dominican if they were a white person?

  • bernadene

    wonderful question! i hope i can find the answer if he gives it!

  • bernadene

    I have a friend who teaches at one of the highest rated universities in the Midwest. Was chair of it’s English department, even. When i challenged him with the same question and also wondered why he introduced stories of highly a provacative [some sexual, not all] and intensely radical nature to these barely out of Catholic High School freshman, [so much so some dropped his classes], he told me early on, and says after many years, it is still true: “Listen, i consider teaching here a public service! and also decided if i was going to have to teach this course [a required English course] i was going to go crazy.”. that was well BEFORE he got tenure, was elected chair, and was a published poet. just an offering.

  • r hyde

    I work at a city owned public facility. We are being required to ask for ethnic backgrounds when registering a patron for a class or pass. I’ve not been satisfied with the reasoning behind this requirement. Most people give the information willingly but many are clearly upset by it or decline to give it, which is an option. What are your thoughts on this type of “identification?”

  • Vivek Jain

    I’m curious: Does Diaz think American war criminals and propagandists will ever face the gallows? Or does justice not apply for the imperialists? When will the American public stop passing the buck and accept its responsibility to restore justice by holding accountable American officials, leaders, and unelected bureaucrats who’ve caused so much destruction and death in the world?

    See:
    “Legal Imperialism” and International Law: Legal Foundations for War Crimes, Debt Collection and Colonization
    http://petras.lahaine.org/?p=1923

    Glenn Greenwald: Why Is the Elite Class Protected Under America’s Justice System?
    http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/4258:glenn-greenwald-why-is-the-elite-class-protected-under-americas-justice-system

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1352324910 Bob Bourke

    I am looking forward to the chat today,
    A LAST MINUTE QUESTION-COMMENT: You mentioned many racial and sexual “minorities” in the talk with Bill Moyers last week…can you comment or emphasize (Now or in the future) the role of another large group of people…who are not included and often dismissed as a political force?

    People with disABILITIES:
    1. Approximately 54 million Americans have at least one disability, making them the LARGEST MINORITY group in the nation. As our baby boomer population ages and more veterans return from war, this number will DOUBLE in the next 20 years.

    2. Of the nearly 70 million families in the United States, more than 20 million have at least one family member with a disability.

    3. It is the only group ANY of us can become a member of at ANY time, everyone is only TEMPORARILY able bodied. (TAB)….accidents, illness, and age happen to ALL.

    THANK YOU for an absorbing talk! (and your books)!!

    Source: http://www.disabilityfunders.org/disability-stats-and-facts

  • Rajiv

    I have two questions, which I think in some sense are related. First, to the outsider-looking-in, teaching creative writing at MIT sounds like an anomaly, what with the cultural significance of the school as a generator of a technofuture (that would seem to leave less room for appreciating the humanities). Does teaching creative writing there differ from your experience teaching elsewhere, between either the institutional support or students?

    Second, your path to becoming a writer departs from the orthodoxy and privileged pedigree of your contemporaries like Jon Franzen. As a child of immigrants from an invisible pacific island, I’m grateful to see someone who looks a little more like me doing the things you do. How do you navigate and manage the strange privilege of the literary world?

  • Fuku Jones

    Not as white as I look

    Estimado Señor Diaz,

    The silence of the whites – like everything about us, it’s easy to misunderstand.  A handful of white males does not determine what the rest of us think and feel.

    Me, I’m a female.  I was the product of what my mother believed was statutory rape when my mother was a 17 year old working in Yellowstone,  in the late 1950s.  She hated me from the moment I was conceived, but Whiteness and an evil mother and older sister forced her to marry someone, anyone and act as white as possible.

    For many of us, we dont need the hideous personal backstory to be thoroughly lost and miserable.   whiteness is an attitude and even if you don’t have it, the whole world thinks you do.  I’ve been teaching in public schools for the last 20 years.  Students don’t trust whites, even the “white” students suspect us of having a hostile, superior agenda.  White means Republican, rich, cruel and racist to the students I taught, in San Diego and here in New Mexico too.

    BTW,  the schools are very hostile to those who aren’t white, I mean who think compassionately toward students, who are bilingual, who date men of color (until the mothers and sisters hate us out of their lives, whites do this too), who read Linda Darling Hammond and Diane Ravitch.  

    They say I should have been a writer.  But my face and mind dont match, who will read a word I write?

  • AD

    It seems to me that Yunior’s character is often subjugated to the caprice of past demons and loss. In other words, no matter how hard he tries to bury the survivor’s guilt of living beyond the memory of his estranged father and late brother, their impressions on his disposition are far too heavy to stave. As a result, we see the effects on his love life, his promiscuity and his lack of conviction in arenas that involve the will and trust of others like Lola. Do you suppose that Yunior perceives his behavior as self-defeating? If so, what will it take for him to overcome the memories of the past that weigh on his conscience?

  • Debesh

    I think story is in every person’s life .But all cannot express them to others .But some can make it in the greatest way .We should take initiative to search stories from the life of general people who don’t have knowledge enough to present to others .We can search for weird stories from life of general people specially poor and uneducated people to create stories .Some have brains to make stories to a great form .

  • Anonymous

    The live chat replay is not working. Does anyone know if it’s posted elsewhere?

  • Michal PCC

    Myślę, że historia jest w życiu każdego człowieka. Ale nie wszystko można wyrazić je innym. Ale niektórzy mogą zrobić to w największym sposób. Powinniśmy podjąć inicjatywę, aby sprawdzić historie z życia ogólnie ludzi, którzy nie mają wiedzy na tyle, aby przedstawić inwestowanie innych. możemy szukać dziwnych historii z życia ogólnych ludzi specjalnie biedni i niewykształceni ludzie tworzą historie. Niektóre mają mózgi, aby historie do wielkiej formy.