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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Junot Díaz Visits Stony Brook for Commons Day

Kenneth Ho/ The Statesman

The Stony Brook community gathered in the Staller Center for the Undergraduate Colleges annual Commons Day on Wednesday.  Junot  Díaz , author of this year’s freshman-reading novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, discussed his book and answered student’s questions.

“Kids need support, not lecturing,” Díaz said before opening the floor to questions.

According to Díaz, kids are too busy with jobs, classes and being cool that they don’t need someone to tell them things they already know.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won numerous awards including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, is a novel that includes allusions to comics and Dominican history, as well as combining  Díaz’s experiences as a kid growing up in an Dominican immigrant family in New Jersey.

Díaz explained that he wrote The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because he felt no one was representing the Dominican and immigrant communities.

“If I didn’t no one would,” he said.

According to  Díaz, being in an immigrant family meant that the parents gave up everything just so they could see their children succeed.  He said that he felt anxiety towards his family’s goals for him,  as he only felt passionate towards the arts. To his parents, being an artist is the equivalence of insanity.  He said that living someone else’s dreams – in his case, a doctor – is a safe and easy, but unsatisfying way to live your life.

He also explained that being an immigrant does not mean giving up one culture for the sake of the other, but rather  “living in both worlds simultaneously.” Santo Domingo, which he described as both “brutal and beautiful,”is still as much a part of him as New Jersey is.

Diaz also stated that his interest in the American literary tradition is what made him think about using a curse, or “fuku” in his novel.  People are naturally attracted to curses and that people see America’s prominence in the world as both a blessing and a curse.

Shortly after answering his question on the “curse,” he was then asked who influenced him the most as an author.

Díaz listed “Texaco,” “Family Installments” and Frank Miller’s comics as his influences. With the exception of comic books,  Díaz ’s influences are mainly of Caribbean origin.

When asked about advice on how to be a writer, he said the writing process is an “enormous amount of bad writing,” and that aspiring writers must “work as hard as the jocks” in order to achieve the goal of being a writer.

“Open yourself to new ideas and new people,” Díaz advised the students.

Díaz said at Rutgers University he wasn’t “educated” because he was always scared and never opened up.  It wasn’t until he attended graduate school at Cornell University he finally received an education.

“Not because it was a better school, but I finally opened up,” Díaz said.

Later at a book signing in the Student Activities Center gallery, Díaz met students personally.

He advised students to do what they’re passionate about and not to live someone else’s dream.

“Travel the world,” he said.  “If you don’t it will be a missed opportunity,” he said.

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