Junot Diaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised New Jersey. He is a creative writing teacher at MIT and fiction editor at the Boston Review. He also serves on the board of advisers for the Freedom University, a Volunteer organization in Georgia that provides post-secondary instruction to undocumented immigrants. From what I have read I have gathered that he really had to rely on himself. Getting him through college working the jobs where you have to do the dirty work, dishes, and pumping-gas. Supposedly Drown reflects Diaz’s strained relationship with his own father, with whom he no longer keeps in contact with. Diaz was born in Villa Juana, a neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was the third child in a family of five.
Through most of his childhood he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father worked in the United States. Diaz emigrated to Parlin, New Jersey, in December of 1974, where he was able to reunite with his father. He lived close to what he considered one of the largest landfills in New Jersey. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which listed him as one of the 20 top writers for the 21st century.
He has also been published in Story, The Paris Review, and in the anthologies The Best American Short Stories four times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000), The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories (2009), and African Voices. He is best known for his two major works: the short story collection Drown (1996) and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). Both were published to critical acclaim and he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the latter. Diaz himself has described his writing style as “[…] a disobedient child of New Jersey and the Dominican Republic if that can be possibly imagined with way too much education.”
Díaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 PEN/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá World Book Capital and the Hay Festival. In September 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
The stories in Drown focus on the teenage narrator’s impoverished, fatherless youth in the Dominican Republic and his struggle adapting to his new life in New Jersey. Reviews were generally strong but not without complaints. Díaz read twice for PRI’s This American Life: “Edison, New Jersey” in 1997 and “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” in 1998. Díaz also published a Spanish translation of’ Drown, entitled Negocios. The arrival of his novel (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) in 2007 prompted a noticeable re-appraisal of Díaz’s earlier work.
Drown became widely recognized as an important landmark in contemporary literature—ten years after its initial publication—even by critics who had either entirely ignored the book or had given it poor reviews. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was published in September 2007. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani characterized Díaz’s writing in the novel as: a sort of streetwise brand of Spanglish that even the most monolingual reader can easily inhale: lots of flash words and razzle-dazzle talk, lots of body language on the sentences, lots of David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes and asides.
And he conjures with seemingly effortless aplomb the two worlds his characters inhabit: the Dominican Republic, the ghost-haunted motherland that shapes their nightmares and their dreams; and America (a.k.a. New Jersey), the land of freedom and hope and not-so-shiny possibilities that they’ve fled to as part of the great Dominican diaspora. Díaz said about the protagonist of the novel, “Oscar was a composite of all the nerds that I grew up with who didn’t have that special reservoir of masculine privilege. Oscar was who I would have been if it had not been for my father or my brother or my own willingness to fight or my own inability to fit into any category easily.” He also has said that he sees a meaningful and fitting connection between the science fiction and/or epic literary genres and the multi-faceted immigrant experience.
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