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MIT student blogger Mitra L. '07

Running away with the field by Mitra L. '07

Junot Diaz is sort of a big deal.

(I’ve come out of blogger hibernation to post something too awesome not to share, and hope you all don’t mind. Welcome to the new bloggers and have a great first semester, Class of 2011!)

As I wrote in a previous entry about Spring 07 classes, I took a short story writing class with Professor Junot Diaz. I was inspired to take it by Nadja ’07 and Yang ’09, each of whom had taken a class from him and recommended it. Good call, guys.

We students in the class knew he wrote a well-known book in 1996, but he never really discussed it and that was that.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago, when I was surfing the web and reading some of New York Magazine‘s picks for the fall. Junot (we didn’t call him Professor Diaz) was interviewed about his new book, and I ignored the possibility of awkwardness just long enough to email it to the class. (Junot is also on the class list…. awk)

Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2007
From: Mitra
Subject: NY Magazine raves
To: [email protected]

Hope you’re all doing well!


Here’s a quotation from the article:

“Díaz, pushing 40 but looking 30, is talking about the eleven years it took him to follow up on his best-selling, six-figure-advanced, award-winning book of short stories, Drown—by most accounts the first great work of Dominican-American fiction. ‘Every now and then you catch one, bro, and I caught a f*cking bad one.’

“At long last, thanks to his gentle agent, his hard-nosed editor, Sean McDonald (who also edited—and survived—James Frey), a good therapist, and “sheer ornery stubbornness,” his first novel, which fulfills his two-book contract, is done—and in many ways it’s even better than Drown.”

Yay. Then, much to my surprise, Junot (sort of) emailed back.

Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2007
From: Junot Diaz
Subject: And Time Magazine
To: [email protected]

Professor Diaz is away but if you’re trading reviews try this one:,9171,1655718,00.html


Ysabel de León
Assistant to Professor Diaz

Here’s another juicy quotation for the click-averse:

“Then Díaz more or less disappeared for 11 years, long enough for most readers to assume that, like most next great hopes of American literature, he wasn’t coming back.

“Now he has, and with a book so astoundingly great that in a fall crowded with heavyweights–Richard Russo, Philip Roth–Díaz is a good bet to run away with the field. You could call The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead; 352 pages), out on Sept. 6, the saga of an immigrant family, but that wouldn’t really be fair. It’s an immigrant-family saga for people who don’t read immigrant-family sagas.”

and my favorite paragraph of the review:

“Díaz has written Oscar Wao (a mishearing of ‘Oscar Wilde’) in a mongrel argot of his devising, a mixture of straight-up English, Dominican Spanish and hieratic nerdspeak crowded with references to Tolkien, DC Comics, role-playing games and classic science fiction. (‘What more sci-fi than the Santo Domingo?’ Oscar asks, ‘What more fantasy than the Antilles?’) In lesser hands Oscar Wao would merely have been the saddest book of the year. With Díaz on the mike, it’s also the funniest. As Oscar and Lola grow up and go to college, they find themselves fighting the lingering dooms of the old country, the alien demands of New Jersey and the depredations of their romantic hearts, all at the same time. It’s an unwinnable three-front war, and the outcome isn’t a fantasy; it’s brutal reality. ‘You know exactly what kind of world we live in,’ Díaz writes. ‘It ain’t no f*cking Middle-earth.’ ”

Yes, this is pretty much how Junot speaks during class.

We then shifted from trading reviews to trading tour info

Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2007
From: Brooke
Subject: go see Junot!
To: [email protected]

hey everyone,

Our esteemed professor is going on tour and will be reading at the
Brattle Theater september 12. tix available through harvard book store:

Hope to see some of you there!


Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2007
From: David
Subject: Re: go see Junot!
To: [email protected]

He’ll also be at the Union Square Barnes & Nobles this friday in NYC.
So if (like me) you now live a little south of Boston


Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2007
From: Louis
Subject: Re: go see Junot!
To: [email protected]

Anyone know anything about any California events?


Ysabel swoops in again with a lifesaver email

Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2007
From: Junot Diaz
Subject: Re: go see Junot!
To: [email protected]

Professor Diaz’s tour schedule can be found at:


Ysabel de Leon
Assistant to Professor Diaz

Um, how hot is it to have your tour schedule posted by The New Yorker? So very hot.

Finally came the big one…

From The New York Times review

“Junot Díaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets ‘Star Trek’ meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West. It is funny, street-smart and keenly observed, and it unfolds from a comic portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek into a harrowing meditation on public and private history and the burdens of familial history. An extraordinarily vibrant book that’s fueled by adrenaline-powered prose, it’s confidently steered through several decades of history by a madcap, magpie voice that’s equally at home talking about Tolkien and Trujillo, anime movies and ancient Dominican curses, sexual shenanigans at Rutgers University and secret police raids in Santo Domingo.

Who wrote this review? Carrie Bradshaw-hating author and critic Michiko Kakutani. Nice.

Do check out both Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And then laugh at people who think that MIT doesn’t have a strong humanities department. (Give them the books too, since that was kind of mean.)

Edited to add:

Junot Diaz on Charlie Rose!

7 responses to “Running away with the field”

  1. Wings '11 says:

    It’s in The Tech, too, if anyone wants to check out the article =P MIT pwns all subjects, it’s just a fact of life.

  2. Sam says:

    Oh yeah? Well MY professor won a Pulitzer Prize. But, I mean, you did see Paul Samuelson buying Pop-Tarts that one time, so I guess we’re even on the academic celebrity-o-meter.

  3. Isshak says:

    I think people are blinded by the beaver stereotype. Who told MIT is only about science ? MIT is like life : it’s balanced.
    The Tech is so cool by the way ! And I saw Melis’ name (the blogger) on the cover. I didn’t know she was helping making it !

  4. Rose says:

    All I can say is wow…

  5. asim says:


    Mitra Please respond to my emails

  6. Janet Riehl says:

    I had the pleasure of hearing Junot speak last night in St. Louis, and you describe it all so well. He’s charming, sharp, funny, and just himself. If all goes well, I hope to host him on my blog

  7. Check out an exclusive interview with Junot Diaz about his life before becoming a successful writer in Slice, a new literary magazine, which is available now.