Junot Diaz at VCU

Junot Díaz, Dominican-American author, came to VCU’s campus Tuesday, September 12th, and it became apparent very quickly he did not come to talk about his books. With a casualness unexpected for the topics at hand, Professor Díaz went straight into his insightful perspective on the current state of American political affairs. His talk ranged from thoughts on community and education to patriarchy and privilege, and all the points that connect these aspects of our lives.

Díaz disrupted the flow of a traditional reading by starting a Q&A session at the beginning of his talk. He asked if there were any “sisters of African descent” in the crowd who had a question for him and many hands shot up. Through the following dialogue, he responded to each question with a cooled intensity that was met with applause from the crowd until this too he disrupted. “This is not the time for applause… These are dark times,” he said. Ultimately, it became clear one of the things he wanted to impart to the crowd during the talk was a sense of agency. It is an agency only possible, Díaz states, when people stop “looking uphill” at what others have, but “downhill” to people in more dire situations than their own. Only then can they see what they do have that can be used to help others.

Before capping off the event with more questions from the audience, Junot Díaz did read a short section from his work: the opening chapter of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar. “Some people don’t think my work is deep” he said afterward. Shrugging off the criticism, “it feels deep to me when I am writing.” Díaz is not often brought up in mainstream conversation despite the long list of accolades he has received, which include the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. Later counts estimate there were 600 people packed into the 300-seat lecture hall. If those 600 individuals weren’t already thinking and talking about Junot Díaz and his ideas before that evening, they are now.

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