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LAist Interview: Junot Diaz, Author and Pulitzer Prize Winner

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Junot Diaz at the Hammer Museum/Osmany Rodriguez for LAist

The thing about author Junot Diaz is, one minute he’s on the phone with you, rapping about meringue, Malcolm X, comic books, and how shit never gets done on time in the Dominican Republic – and the next minute, he’s winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He describes himself as just another ordinary, poor immigrant kid from Jersey, but the book tells a different story: that of an author alive with passion for his roots, for language, and for the moments of silence, linguistic and cultural, that can bring a family together and also tear it apart.

LAist was just one of the multitudes to heap praise on "Oscar Wao", which appeared almost eleven years after his previous effort, the short story collection “Drown" . The novel has also garnered a National Book Critics Circle award for fiction, and has been nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. If all that weren’t enough, he’s even up for a James Beard Award for an article on New York’s Dominican restaurants that appeared last year in Gourmet Magazine.

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Diaz admits, however, that awards don’t mean much to him when it comes right down to it: “My friends all think I'm so crazy. I'm more worried about the next text than I am like, enjoying resting on these laurels. I need to learn to do that more, I'll live longer if I do. It's tremendously gratifying, of course, that people are interested in the book and want to read it, that there's been this much attention given to a piece of fiction that's about a crazy Dominican family, of course, it's wonderful. But for me, that feeling lasts only pico-seconds. I really just want to write stuff that only takes five years to finish!”

We spoke with Diaz by phone last week (before his Pulitzer win was announced) about language, politics, gender, and how “Oscar Wao” was originally conceived as a multi-media experience, complete with an illustrated section that would mimic the comic books Oscar so loved.