Pulitzer alum and MIT prof Junot Díaz's new book, This Is How You Lose Her, follows his alter ego Yunior to Boston, where he gets yelled at by racists and rejected by women. I called Díaz up to ask if the city is as bad as all that. (Answer: kind of.)
SO I HAVE TO ASK YOU, DO YOU LIKE DOING INTERVIEWS? No! Not when I pick a profession where I spend five to ten years hiding . . .
BUT YOU DO SO MANY INTERVIEWS! Yeah, but that’s the task — there are so few chances for one to get to talk about art. And of course there’s a personal stake in talking about my own art, but also there’s a part of me, as a teacher and as someone who lives in the damn culture, I say ok, I’m going to advocate for stuff that I think requires advocacy. . . . I mean, you have two presidential candidates and neither one of them have mentioned artists. We live in such a toxic culture where art is marginalized. So you take an opportunity and try to plug some other people while you’re trying to hawk your own shit.
I NOTICED THAT SOME INTERVIEWS START OFF TRYING TO TROLL YOU, ASKING THE MOST OFFENSIVE THING POSSIBLE. They always start off saying, “Ok, how did your Dominican-ness/blackness/whatever affect your writing?” and I’m like, “And how did your whiteness affect your writing?”
I THINK THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR WRITING THAT MAKES PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE. I wonder. You know, for someone like me, there’s a very uncertain zone where you wonder how much of it is that you’re a person of color, how much of it is that you’re like, kind of a smarty-pants person of color? Or how much of it is that you’re kind of a smarty-pants progressive person of color? Is it the work, is it me, is it my bad haircut?
I HAVE A THEORY ABOUT THIS. I THINK IT’S THAT IF YOU’RE A WHITE NERD, YOU GAVE UP ON BEING COOL A LONG TIME AGO, AND COOL IS SOMETHING WE CONSTRUCT AROUND PEOPLE OF COLOR. BUT YOU’RE NERDY AND BROWN, AND I THINK THAT FREAKS WHITE NERDS OUT SOMETIMES. Oh, I know that freaks them out!
I FOUND THIS ONE GUY WRITING AN ESSAY ABOUT HOW NO ONE LIKE YUNIOR COULD EXIST. Yeah, ok, whatever. Unless he knows anything about the community I grew up in! Or what was possible in it. I’m telling you, this is the same guy who will go out and watch Thor. For certain people, a Norse god as a superhero is more believable than a character like Yunior. It’s amazing. I was on the train the other day, coming downtown, and I heard this young Dominican kid, about six feet tall, he’s got, like, these enormous biceps, clearly he’s been lifting for ten or twelve years, and he’s talking about Stanley Kubrick’s relationship to his female actresses, you know, in this thick Dominican accent. I just sat back and laughed. I was like, “Ah, yes. Home.”
WAS THAT IN BOSTON? No, that was in New York City. But I hear crazier stuff in Boston.