Everybody knows Junot Diaz is a cool cat. A slick dude, a sharp-talker. He’s also a literary superstar. Mix brilliance with sly wit and you’ve got a fantastic reading.
Tonight, Junot Diaz made an evening stop at the Miami Book Fair. At 6:45 pm, the Dominican-American writer sauntered up to stage wearing a faded red t-shirt and glasses. Diaz casually leaned on the podium, scanned the crowd and said, “It’s great you all came out here. It’s Monday…and you’ve got plenty of shit to do on Monday.”
Diaz is the sort of writer you can listen to for hours. He breezily chatted about everything from the election, fans who take too long posing for pictures (guilty), the Latinos in Miami and his alma mater Rutgers University. Diaz riffed, cussed and scored numerous laughs from his adorers. He even gave the crowd a run-down of the night.
“Here’s how we do it,” He said. “I read, you ask questions, I read. That's it. Let’s go, yeah?” Junot Diaz, genius writer and homeboy, didn’t bring a copy of his own book. He prepared to read his first story from a cellphone, but an audience member donated a copy. (Who wouldn’t?) Somehow, Junot Diaz’s forgetfulness made him seem that much cooler.
Diaz read "Wildwood," a story published in the New Yorker in 2007. The heartwrenching piece is about cancer, a young girl coming into her own as a woman, and it's about huge mom-breasts. The boob parts got the heartiest laughs. Understandably. After the boobs, Junot moved into a thought provoking and entertaining Q and A. An audience member behind me whispered, “Man, he’s like a comedian.”
Indeed. Junot drew laughs from his swooning crowd, but he also threw out frequent nuggets of profundity. He explained why he would not be doing the Gangnam style dance on YouTube (“I’ve filled my quota of ridiculo this week”) and why his books are peppered with hip Spanish slang.
“Unintelligibility is important.” Diaz said, “You can’t understand everything in life. Life is largely unintelligible. We mostly don’t understand anything, and we understand less than we think we understand. The techniques we find in books remind us that in the real world anything that is realistic is also unintelligible.” That’s Diaz for you. He treats his audience like they are scholars and just a pal down the block.
Diaz went on to address how men never see women as full human beings, and how female authors are superior at writing in the male voice. After a few more questions, Diaz finished off the event with Alma, a story from his newest collection This Is How You Lose Her.
You can’t go wrong with a Junot Diaz reading. He reads like talks, he stimulates your mind, he’s just a rad guy. The last time I met Diaz, at the Coral Gables reading in September, I reverted into creepy groupie mode. I introduced myself as, “Bleh-nifer-Mc-bleh”, to which he responded, “Are you all right sweetheart? Calm down. It’ s just me.” Diaz has an effect on people. (And not just me when I freak out.)
The crowd loved him, laughed with him, connected with him like he was an old buddy. My feelings about tonight’s reading are similar to that of my seatmate, a girl who snuck in a Dasani bottle full of vodka. Halfway through the reading she cried, “Junot, Junot! You…are… so good….so great, sooo…soo good...” He is. He really is just that good.
WLRN is collaborating with the Florida Book Review for this year's Miami Book Fair International. Check back all weekend for updates.