Winner of ’08 Pulitzer speaks to campus on societal issues, art

Junot Diaz, professor of creative writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” visited campus Wednesday.

Diaz was invited by the Latina/Latino Studies Program to take part in a number of activities, including a book signing event at the Natural History Building at 5 p.m. About 100 people gathered to listen to Diaz read selections from his first novel and his short story, “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars,” which deals with a young man and infidelity.

“His work is the most canonical creative writing in the area of Latino Studies,” said Alicia P. Rodriguez, associate director of the Latina and Latino Studies Program. “His breadth goes beyond the Latino community. He has mainstream appeal.”

He spoke to about 25 people during a one-hour lunchtime conversation event about his Dominican upbringing and the writing process connected to his recent success, in addition to answering students’ questions.

Diaz said he wanted to share his experiences because he feels that as an educator and artist, it is important to engage in dialogue with students about the importance of the arts in society.

He said winning a Pulitzer Prize has made it easier to communicate with more people about the arts.

“It makes it easier to invite a Pulitzer Prize winner than it does a Dominican writer from New Jersey, and yet I’m exactly the same person,” Diaz said.

Though he has received acclaim for his work, fame has not changed him, he said. Diaz also shared his personal writing process with the audience. He said it took him 11 years to write his debut award-winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

He said that when he writes, he likes to be alone without outside conversation. He said he usually writes in the early morning, but he is not like other writers who write all the time.

“Most writers are compulsive writers,” he said. “I’m a compulsive reader.”

Diaz said he tries to teach young people the grammar of writing, so they can take that and make something of it. He also wants to show people that it does not matter their background.

“I think it’s okay for people to see that average Joes can turn around and become great artists,” he said. “I feel like I’m about as average as they get.”

Moises Orozco, graduate student, attended the conversation with Diaz because he had read “Drown” and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” two of his books.

“I was really intrigued by his work and wanted to get to meet him personally and ask him questions,” Orozco said.

He said he learned more about the writing process from Diaz.

“Writing and life is just a process,” Orozco said. “You have to go at your own pace and truly seek what moves you.”