Despite it being day 2 of my cleanse and me wanting to run home and hide, I instead attended a NOMAA (Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance) event on Monday night. I am so glad I did! I got to meet and hear literary luminary Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) speak on what it means to be an artist. I already knew he was a big deal but I think what impressed me more than his Pulitzer Prize was the fact that he used the word “clown” 5 minutes into the conversation. He apologized for being dressed up like a clown, meaning his suit lol. Hello, I call them clown suits too! This guy really does speak my language. That coupled with him reciting a Ghetto Boyz verse won me over immediately.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a nerd. While I spend most of my time interviewing A-List celebs and musicians, I am hardly ever star struck…until it comes to meeting an author. Perhaps it has something to do with seeing someone living out my dream or perhaps because they tend to actually have something to say. In this case, Junot sure did not disappoint. Being a Latina writer myself, I could so relate with a lot of the issues he spoke of regarding the Latino experience. Once again, it felt wonderful to find out I am not alone in my struggle or quest for self-expression.
Check out his inspiring words regarding his personal journey as a writer and what it means to be an artist below:
What was the beginning of your journey for Oscar Wao?
A lot of my journey came from not only being marginalized in a community that no one knew anything about, but coming from a family where 2 of the 5 siblings were in jail. And people were like we don’t want to be associated with them. So, I was able to see what being a Dominican meant in a time where no one knew what Dominicans were. But also to be Dominican in a community that in itself can be extremely cruel to people that it thinks are inferior, that it thinks are too dark skinned, that it thinks are too poor etc. I think it all started from there. I don’t think that I would have ever become a writer now had I not noticed that we were a community [latinos] only sometimes and then other times we weren’t. My main focus was this critical recognition that there was a lot happening in our community that we didn’t talk about. It was very easy to point the finger outwards, but on the inside there was a lot of shit going on that I was bearing witness to and I needed to find a way to express that.
What drives you as an artist?
I think what pushed me was being undervalued, when a part of me knew I was not stupid. I was a pretty smart kid but in high school people would say “you’re an idiot, you should drop out.” But the real answer to that is if you can dig in yourself and can stop being afraid enough, long enough, to remember who you are everything is possible. When I was in my mid-twenties for a short period I stopped being afraid of who I was and suddenly things became possible. But that was a long struggle.
Yes! Someone who isn’t afraid to say what no one will admit! And this is why I am in awe of him.