Monday, January 04, 2010

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz comes to CSUMB Feb. 10

Junot Diaz, author of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," will visit CSU-Monterey Bay Feb. 10 as part of the President's Speaker Series.
If you haven't read “Oscar Wao,” it's a mesmerizing, poetic tale of immigration and generational divide, but really it's the story of an inner-city geek who fits in nowhere and burns for it in the end. Harrowing. And Real.
Read the full press release after the jump.

The wondrous life of Junot Diaz
Critically acclaimed writer visits CSUMB Feb. 10

Junot Diaz, the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and author of "Drown," will visit California State University, Monterey Bay’s World Theater on Feb. 10 as the President’s Speaker Series continues.

“Oscar” describes the recent immigrant experience over several generations through the story of a Dominican family living in the United States. By focusing on four family members, the novel examines the complexity of the immigrant identity along racial, national, ethnic and gender lines.

Oscar Wao – a Spanish pronunciation of Oscar Wilde – is a teenager who buries his broken heart and frustration in sci-fi novels, comic books and Star Trek action figures. The teen, like Diaz, balances two cultures – one in New Jersey, another in his family’s native Dominican Republic.

The novel mixes pop culture, political criticism and characters with street credibility. And it shows off Diaz’ dexterity, demonstrating his geek credentials and his literary scholarship. Allusions to “Dune” and “The Lord of the Rings” bump up against references to Herman Melville and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Diaz, a professor of creative writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has had a lot to celebrate since the novel’s publication. Few books have arrived to more acclaim. It was ranked on more than 35 best-book lists. Time magazine called it the novel of the year. It’s a wondrous place Diaz never expected to be.

“I always kind of giggle any time I’m at an MIT faculty meeting,” Diaz told CBS News. “And people are like, ‘I got a Nobel Prize.’ Someone else is like, ‘I got a Pritzker.’ And I’m like, ‘My parents were illegal.’ I love this. You know, only in America.”

Diaz was 6 years old when his family emigrated to New Jersey as part of the wave of Dominicans who came to the U.S. after the death of dictator Rafael Trujillo. The family lived in a housing complex bordering a landfill, because rent was cheap. He escaped the neighborhood by sneaking away to the library. “I was convinced that I could stumble upon the sort of key text that would describe why I was in the United States,” he has told interviewers.

With support from his mother, he found his way to Rutgers University. “I felt like I had finally come home,” he told the television network. He followed that with a master’s of fine arts at Cornell University.

In 1996, at the age of 27, his book of short stories, “Drown,” made him an overnight sensation. The young phenom was then expected to produce the Next Great American Novel.

It took him 11 years.

Besides the Pulitzer, “Oscar Wao” earned Diaz the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and many other honors. For the self-confessed ghetto nerd, it’s a sweet reward for an incredible journey.

Will readers have to wait 11 years for the next book? “I hope not,” Diaz has told interviewers. “I hope I can get it down to five years. That’s the dream.”

CSUMB invited Junot Diaz as part of the President's Speakers Series because the faculty deem his literature to be culturally current and significant. The Speakers Series aims to bring just such voices to Monterey Bay so that the local communities can participate firsthand in the nation's intellectual and creative conversations.

Diaz will read from his works starting at 7 p.m. in the World Theater on Sixth Avenue. A book signing will follow. The event is free, but reservations are requested and can be made at

A campus map and driving directions are available at

. . . (Junot Diaz) has written a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction’s most distinctive and irresistible new voices.
– Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

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 saga for people who don’t read immigrant-family sagas.
– Lev Grossman, Time magazine

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