Junot Díaz (born December 31, 1968) is a Dominican-American writer and creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Central to Díaz's work is the duality of the immigrant experience. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in 2008.
Díaz was born in Villa Juana, a neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was the third child in a family of five. Throughout most of his early childhood, he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father worked in the United States. Díaz emigrated to Parlin, New Jersey in December 1974, where he was re-united with his father. There he lived less than a mile from what he has described as "one of the largest landfills in New Jersey".
He attended Madison Park Elementary and was a voracious reader, often walking four miles in order to borrow books from his public library. At this time Díaz became fascinated with apocalyptic films and books, especially the work of John Christopher, the original Planet of the Apes films, and the BBC mini-series Edge of Darkness. Díaz graduated from Cedar Ridge High School (now merged to form Old Bridge High School) in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey in 1987.
He attended Kean College in Union, New Jersey for one year before transferring and ultimately completing his BA at Rutgers College in 1992, majoring in English; there he was involved in Demarest Hall, a creative-writing, living-learning, residence hall, and in various student organizations. He was exposed to the authors who would motivate him into becoming a writer: Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros. He worked his way through college by delivering pool tables, washing dishes, pumping gas, and working at Raritan River Steel. Reflecting on his experience growing up in America and working his way through college in 2010, Diaz said: "I can safely say I've seen the US from the bottom up...I may be a success story as an individual. But if you adjust the knob and just take it back one setting to the family unit, I would say my family tells a much more complicated story. It tells the story of two kids in prison. It tells the story of enormous poverty, of tremendous difficulty."
After graduating from Rutgers he was employed at Rutgers University Press as an editorial assistant. He earned his MFA from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995, where he wrote most of his first collection of short stories. |archivedate = 2008-04-12}} the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Price for Fiction, the 2008 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, and the Massachusetts Book Awards Fiction Award in 2007. Díaz also won the James Beard Foundation's MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award for his article "He'll Take El Alto", which appeared in Gourmet, September 2007. The novel was also selected by Time and New York Magazine as the best novel of 2007. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Christian Science Monitor, New Statesman, Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly were among the 35 publications that placed the novel on their 'Best of 2007' lists. The novel was the subject of a panel at the 2008 Modern Language Association conference in San Francisco.
In February, 2010, Diaz's contributions towards encouraging fellow writers was recognised when he was awarded the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, alongside Maxine Hong Kingston and poet M.L. Liebler. Also in February 2010, Diaz contributed a highly negative critical assessment of the presidency of Barack Obama to The New Yorker. writing in his essay "One Year: Storyteller-in-Chief":
All year I’ve been waiting for Obama to flex his narrative muscles, to tell the story of his presidency, of his Administration, to tell the story of where our country is going and why we should help deliver it there. A coherent, accessible, compelling story...one that is narrow enough to be held in our minds and hearts and that nevertheless is roomy enough for us, the audience, to weave our own predilections, dreams, fears, experiences into its fabric. It should necessarily be a story eight years in duration, a story that no matter what our personal politics are will excite us enough to go out and reëlect the teller just so we can be there for the story’s end. But from where I sit our President has not even told a bad story; he, in my opinion, has told no story at all. I heard him talk healthcare to death but while he was elaborating ideas his opponents were telling stories. Sure they were bad ones, full of distortions and outright lies, but at least they were talking to the American people in the correct idiom: that of narrative. The President gave us a raft of information about why healthcare would be a swell idea; the Republicans gave us death panels. Ideas are wonderful things, but unless they’re couched in a good story they can do nothing.
Díaz has been active in a number of community organizations in New York City, from Pro-Libertad, to the Dominican Workers' Party (Partido de los Trabajadores Dominicanos), and the Unión de Jóvenes Dominicanos (lit. "Dominican Youth Union"). He has been critical of immigration policy in the United States. With fellow author Edwidge Danticat, Díaz published an op-ed piece in The New York Times condemning the illegal deportation of Haitians and Haitian Dominicans by the Dominican government.
On May 22, 2010, it was announced that Diaz had been selected to sit on the 20-member Pulitzer Prize board of jurors. Diaz described his appointment, and the fact that he is the first Latino to be appointed to the panel, as an "extraordinary honor".