Junot Díaz on Writing Men, Stories as Art, and Star Wars
Díaz is famous for his painful approach to writing. Oscar Wao took a decade to write. This Is How You Lose Her took even longer, stretching over 15 years of the 43-year-old author's life. But Díaz says that slow, careful process is at the center of his art.
"I think any learning that I have done comes from the fact that I threw out so damn much," he says. "Because listen my brother, I always think the first few passes, you're always just regurgitating the formulas you've learned, no matter how good those passes are. So I try my best. I don't always succeed, but I try my best to get past, to write through my formulas. But of course you've got to be open to throwing away a lot of stuff because believe me, some of my formulaic passes are actually quite good. But sometimes you've got to throw them away, even if what comes next is not all that great. I would rather try for something different and suck than do something good that's pretty much the same."
Díaz says that many of his students have it backwards by focusing on success instead of self-exploration.
"You'd be surprised how many of my young, creative writers are not interested in pushing deeply into themselves," he says. "In fact, they think of this as more of another profession. They think of this not as an artistic calling, this is just a replacement for being a dentist. And I think that's not uncommon. Rare is the writer who is serious about being an artist and doesn't think about this as being a profession. If you think of your writing as a profession, I can always tell because you're in a rush. You're in a rush to get published. You're in a rush to get applause. But if you're thinking about this as an artist, the only thing that you're in a rush to do is to fucking be in life. And your art tends to come very, very slowly."
Díaz, who was recently awarded a MacArthur "genius grant," says that when it comes to writing "there is no secret."
"I always feel that if one reads enough and works hard enough, then all the things that we are talking about become very apparent," he says. "For some people, voice is not that interesting. I think that that's OK. I would argue that Stephen King is far more interested in storytelling than he is in having an instantly recognizable voice. Stephen King's storytelling muscle is the size of Jupiter. This guy could tell a fucking story that would break the fucking Empire State Building into a million pieces. So you've got to remember, there are many, many aspects to this art. Depending on what you're interested in, you focus on different things."
What all great literature does have in common, however, is its ability to cut through the crap of daily life - whether in Miami, New Jersey, or the Caribbean.
"What you want a book to do is to open up a space where people can meet themselves," he says. "You know, it's great to have an iPhone. I have an iPhone. But running and buying an iPhone doesn't teach you anything about yourself. Rooting for your favorite fucking baseball team doesn't put you in contact with your human self."
"But art, and reading a book like this, it opens the possibility that in the process you will meet your human self," he says. "If we spent more time with our human selves, I think we'd be happier."
Junot Diaz appears at the Miami Book Fair tonight at 6:30 p.m. Visit miamibookfair.com.