Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Author Talk: Junot Diaz ... with video!

On April 18 part of my book club joined me at the CityLit Festival in Baltimore to hear author Junot Diaz speak. My club read his book, THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, this month so this was an excellent opportunity for us.

There were four gals from the club, including myself, who attended. Others had read the book but couldn't make it into Baltimore that day. I recapped the meeting at my book club's blog here. That post includes quotes from several of the gals with their opinions of the book as well as our ratings.

The auditorium where Diaz spoke was PACKED. We arrived a bit early and got seats in the very back row, against the wall. Still, we did have seats - many people did not.

I'd like to point out that his name is pronounced JUNO ... I didn't know that before the talk, so maybe that will be news to some of you as well.

As I mentioned in my review of OSCAR WAO, there is lots of bad language in the book as well as lots of Spanish. I was curious to see whether Diaz would speak with that way too ... and boy, did he ever.

Diaz speaks in a very low key manner. He is slow-spoken, almost monotone, and his enunciation in unique (you can see all this in the videos). He uses lots of Spanglish and his talk was sprinkled with "yeah?" - it was like a verbal quirk, the way "um" is for some people. (After you watch the video I'd love to hear your thoughts on his reading voice - my club had different reactions to it.)

He began by standing up at the podium and saying "What are you all DOING here? It's so NICE outside .... You all are SUPER nerdy." And the audience burst into laughter (in case you don't know, the main character in OSCAR WAO is a nerd of the first degree).

After a few minutes of discussing his novel, he began to read from one of his unpublished short stories. It has to do with infidelity and it is called "The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars." He joked that his sister once told him that you could write about anything as long as you throw infidelity in there - people LOVE reading about infidelity. I've recorded his reading in the three video clips below. I will warn you that there is some bad language in there, so don't be listening to this at work or in front of the kiddos unless you have headphones.

One thing about the videos ... you may want to listen rather than watch them. I didn't have a tripod for my camera and my arms got tired rather quickly so the videos jump around a bit. Sorry 'bout that.

The first video (about 4 minutes) begins in the middle of the first sentence of the story.



I took a quick break to rest my arms and started the second video just a minute later. This one is about 4 minutes too.



This last video is just over 8 minutes. I missed the first sentence but what he was saying was that Yunior wanted to stay in the "real" Santo Domingo and experience city life but Magda wanted to stay in a resort. Fair warning - the story picks up as Yunior is trying to get Magda to have sex with him.



I actually LOVED this story in spite of the language. It was one of those stories that I can totally visualize happening in the real world. What did you think of it? One of the gals from my club thought it was better than OSCAR WAO. Some of the phrases were fantastic - my favorites include the "ambitious topiaries" line and "melanin deficit" on the beach.

After the reading Diaz took questions from the audience. One question had to do with the extensive use of Spanish in the text. This is something my club struggled with so I was very interested in hearing what he had to say about it. I recapped this discussion in a post at ReadingGroupGuides.com so I'm going to insert an excerpt from that here:
One of the things our club found challenging was the profusion of Spanish in the text. During his talk, Diaz addressed this issue. He joked that the Spanish wasn't there to make English-speakers "FEEL the immigration, sucka!" Rather, it was there as an invitation to engage other people who are out of your normal circle. He explained that his mom would understand all the Dominican references but that she'd never get all the sci-fi stuff --- she'd have to talk to a "geek" to understand that part of the story. "Groups that wouldn't normally interact are forced to talk to each other to understand the novel," said Diaz. For me, this was a very intriguing thought and it definitely added to my understanding and appreciation of the book.
If you'd like to read the rest of that recap, click here.

Another question from the audience had to do with the origin and the importance of the faceless man in OSCAR WAO. Diaz explained that your unconscious understands your novel better than you do. Often you don't know why you're putting something in but if you take it out the book makes no sense. That is what happened with him and the faceless man; he tried taking it out and the book didn't work without it.

The gals and I had a great time discussing both the book and the author's talk over lunch. We agreed that hearing an author discuss his work adds a great deal of insight into the book itself. My opinion of OSCAR WAO went up after hearing Diaz speak, and I think the same is true of several of the other gals.

All in all, my time at CityLit was a wonderful experience. I can't wait until next year's festival!

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Here are a few other posts you might enjoy.

5 comments:

Jason: Husband, and Father of Two! said...

Hi, I found your blog through the Slumdog discussion on Redblog. Great blog! High-quality stuff!

I'm a huge fan of fantasy as well and look forward with eager anticipation to the final installments of the Wheel of Time series. The author selected by Jordan's wife to finish the series is an amazing author and I have been pleasantly surprised by his work. This is all unrelated to this particular blog post, but I just wanted to comment on your site as a whole.

I'm pretty much exclusive to sci-fi and fantasy, only recently beginning to explore fantasy further. Any recommendations?

softdrink said...

Looks like fun...thanks for sharing! And I'm so glad I now know how to pronounce Junot...I've been wondering about that for months.

Trish said...

Oh man, I am eating all of this up! I just picked up my copy of Oscar Wao and am still apprehensive about how the group will do with the language and sex (we're a pretty conservative bunch...me and one other being more on the periphery), but I'm SO glad for the vidoes and the quotes about the language because I know that will come up in the group. As a reader of world lit, I'm used to other languages being used profusely, but it's still a question that gets asked of an author.

Thanks Heather!

Heather J. said...

Jason - Welcome! I sent you an email, but I also wanted to post some recommendations here.

I haven't kept up with new fantasy authors for the past few years so my suggestions will be older books. Have you read Melanie Rawn? Her books were quite good. I think one in the series was called Sunrunner's Fire, but I could be wrong (it's been a while). What about Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman? They colaborated on a ton of the Dragonlance books and just came about with a new book recently. If you enjoy young adult books, Anne McCaffery is all old favorite of mine. I've also heard excellent things about a new book called Graceling (don't know the author, sorry).

There are TONS of blogs out there devoted to SciFi/Fantasy. Here are a few good ones:

tor.com (go figure!)
http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com
http://otter.covblogs.com

Hope that helps!

Heather J. said...

softdrink - glad you enjoyed it!

Trish - I'm glad this could be of help. Looking forward to hearing how your group responds to this book. :)

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