Old friends Junot Díaz and Francisco Goldman talk shop
Authors Junot Díaz and Francisco Goldman chat with each other and Miwa Messer at The Barnes and Noble review.
Interview conducted by Miwa Messer for The Barnes & Noble ReviewSkip to next paragraph
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Between the two of them, Junot Díaz and Francisco Goldman have produced some of the most mesmerizing literary fiction today – vibrant and soulful, often screamingly funny, and always searching. Each of their debuts was selected for the Discover Great New Writers program – Díaz's "Drown" in '96 and Goldman's "The Long Night of White Chickens" in '92 – and since then, both have published to ever-growing acclaim, including a Pulitzer Prize for Díaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."
Goldman's most recent novel, the haunting "Say Her Name," is now out in paperback, and "This Is How You Lose Her," Díaz's long-awaited follow-up to "Oscar Wao," was released today.
The longtime friends generously agreed to let the Barnes & Noble Review eavesdrop on their conversation, one that I kicked off – and closed – with some questions of my own. – Miwa Messer
The Barnes and Noble Review: Which comes first, voice or place?
Junot Díaz: For my first three books the setting (or place if you will) has always been a given – NJ and the Dominican Republic and some NYC – so from one perspective you could say that the place in my work always comes first. But really what comes first is something even more basic – my desire to write about the Dominican diasporic experience, to write about a movement of people, a set of experiences, a history, which I witnessed firsthand and which shaped almost every part of my life, and yet which was largely ignored, erased, and misunderstood by the larger culture. That was the first impulse, certainly. But with all three of my books there were other very specific evolutionary conditions that made them possible. "Oscar Wao" or example cohered in a period of terrible distress. All the novels that I wanted to write were not happening. I was living in Mexico City, next door to you, Frank (in fact you were the one who enticed me to come down to the DF [Distrito Federal], thinking the distance and the city would inspire me.) My apartment had almost no furniture and garbage bags for window shades – I definitely wasn't taking care of myself. I was going nuts from my lack of success, and I kept playing the "Conan the Barbarian" soundtrack over and over thinking that it might spark something.
Now that I've had time to reflect, I realize that in all the failed books I was attempting to write about the deepest sh*t in both my life and in Dominican history. I was trying to tackle the traumatic after-effects of dictatorship, specifically the afterlife of the Trujillato, starting with my own family and projecting that out to my fictional characters. This was not an easy thing to do. Not for me certainly. I grew up in the shadow of the Trujillato, saw how the regime had ravaged so many families. The sexual violence that the Trujillato deployed to terrorize the Dominican people was one of my principle concerns and given all the silence and shame that surrounds it – no wonder I was having trouble with the material.