Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Drown,” “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and “This is How You Lose Her,” will speak at the Footlight Club today, Fri., Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. as part of the JP Reads event.
“I started coming to JP because an ex-girlfriend of mine is a long-term resident,” said Díaz in a Gazette phone interview, revealing his local ties. “When you learn a community through an eye of a family of community organizers, it gives you a very different perspective of the community. JP stands in my imagination as a very good time in my life, a very good friendship, and the community, which is sort of civic-minded and filled with activism.”
“I’m definitely interested in talking to readers and finding out what they’re thinking,” he continued. “I think the audience determines the conversations.”
Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Díaz is currently a writing professor at MIT and the fiction editor at Boston Review. He has received warm acclaim from critics and fans for each of his three books. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and “This is How You Lose Her” became a New York Times best-seller and National Book Award finalist. He is also the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship and PEN/O. Henry Award.
Díaz’s style of writing, with the occasional Spanish word mixed in with the English main text, has become renowned, but he said it is nothing special. “I don’t think I write in anything called ‘Spanglish.’ I think what I do as an artist is very common,” he said.
Díaz noted that his use of language in his stories is essential to illustrating character and identity.
“In the end, I think what matters most to readers are not the individual words that appear on the page, but the ethos of the word, the character of the word. If my readers are attracted to my work, in part it’s because my characters are very human, very vulnerable, very exposed.”
“Drown” is a collection of short stories that take place in the Dominican Republic, New York and New Jersey, told from the perspective of adolescent male narrators.
“This is a book that to me seems to be explicitly about a very specific time [when] masculine identity is formed,” Díaz said.
He also emphasized his exploration of the idea of “what it means to be Dominican in a Diasporic experience,” and how the theme is a central idea in his art.
JP Reads’ goal is to engage the Jamaica Plain community and encourage residents to come together through the reading of a single book. It does this by hosting author talks and discussions addressing the themes in the book chosen. JP Reads’ volunteer advisory board is made up of JP residents with representation from JP’s libraries and community organizations.
The organizers were originally inspired by West Roxbury Reads’ similar program and reception with author Michael Pollan. They launched a JP version last fall with Erin Morgenstern’s “Night Circus,” and are currently busy solidifying programs and raising money for more events. In the first year alone, more than 700 members of the community participated in the many events.
“It’s been great to see different parts of Jamaica Plain come together around issues of literacy and reading,” said JP Reads organizer Nina Berber.
JP Reads hosted various other events in the community based on this year’s book choice, “Drown,” including several adult book discussions planned around the author’s first book at the Jamaica Plain and Connolly Branch libraries.
“We chose Junot to speak on a wide number of issues that are relevant to the JP community,” said Berber. “And, he’s an awesome speaker.”
JP Reads also works in partnership with JP Forum, who recently held talks with authors David Bacon and Leigh Patel, each of which engendered meaningful discussions for up to 50 people in attendance.
The Hyde Square Task Force Youth Literacy Theatre group also read “Drown” and created some short plays based on the stories, and are expected to be in attendance at Díaz’s talk.
About 40 to 50 free tickets will be available at the Footlight Club, 7A Eliot St., tonight. Advance tickets were already claimed by mid-October, and attendees are urged to go early to get a spot.
Updated version: Tickets tonight are available only at the Footlight Club.