Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and some other great stuff, was recently profiled in Playboy (the article went live online earlier today) by fanboy journalist Giancarlo DiTrapano. Díaz took him on a tour of his hometown in New Jersey, and in between all the recollections of the writer's failed relationships with women, DiTrapano got to the point: everyone loves Junot Díaz.
Even Michiko Kakutani from The New York Times, "a reviewer notorious for going completely relentless bitch on many a good book" likes him. And if Kakutani can keep her inner harpy at bay long enough to get through This Is How You Lose Her, then who could be against him? Here are some examples of people who think Díaz is awesome, as told by DiTrapano:
- Renowned author Edmund White, who told DiTrapano over the phone that “books about class struggle have been replaced with books about gauche, privileged Americans. Díaz doesn’t do that. He’s working from the inside, describing the immigrant experience, and he is a terribly serious person when it comes to writing.”
- Mitchell S. Jackson, author of The Residue Years, who said “Junot is important because, more than anyone else I can think of, he’s in the sweet spot: critically strong and wildly popular."
- The judges who awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for obvious reasons.
- Giancarlo DiTrapano, who wrote:
I might have felt I was in some way repaying him for talking to me. I was a little starstruck and trying too hard to please. He’d just met me a few hours earlier, but I had known and liked him (or at least some fictional, tweaked-gene version of him that I’d seen in Yunior) ever since I’d first read Drown.
DiTrapano also notes that "finding detractors is a formidable task." By DiTrapano's count, the only person out there who doesn't like Díaz is a dick, anyway. He wrote:
“Kind of a dick” is how Díaz had once been described to me, but that description was given by someone who actually is a dick in real life, so I had already deduced that Díaz was cool. He 100 percent was.
There's not much to dislike about Díaz, at least not in this piece. Assuming his Yunior character is as autobiographical as the literary world suspects, the only people who'd have even half a reason to dislike him are a few disgruntled ex-girlfriends. Besides being a great writer, Díaz is nice ("He is one of the friendliest, and least writerly, writers I’ve ever met"), charming ("Díaz is a genuinely pleasant person to be around[...] There is not a drop of social awkwardness about him, and he doesn’t noticeably censor himself before speaking") and has a way with people ("Once he starts talking, people do shit for him").
Beyond that, Díaz and Playboy are well matched in a way. While Díaz's work, after all, centers on male infidelity, and sex. He's like Hugh Hefner, only with less hair and more imagination. At one, point DiTrapano compares stale marriages to the stuffy, old and white male literary field — both feel like "the same old ass you’ve grown tired of fucking/reading," he noted — and it feels right at home in the pages of a magazine that's sometimes literary, sometimes not.
Okay, so there's a part at the very, very end, though, when Díaz implies he's not superhuman and actually has troubles like the rest of. As he recounts to his way-too-admiring profiler, he kept the secret of his father's affair from his mother, which left some scars on the entire family. “I mean, look at me and my siblings," Díaz said. "We’re five, and none of us has been in a normal marriage. None. Five kids.”
But just when things get interesting, the story ends.