“Language has always been our playground”

by Nicholas Laughlin on July 30, 2010

Junot DiazJunot Díaz

Junot Díaz: I have to tell you something: when I was young, I read Moby Dick and I always thought, “There is no English like this in the world.” It was a book that contained twenty-five Englishes. And I was like, “Could I write a book that contained every single one of the languages I could speak fluently, or at least that I was aware of?” So that was a dream, too.

Guernica: You’re a great talker. I’ve heard you give talks and on the radio. You’re a naturally good talker. Do you think being a good talker is also part of being a good writer? Or did one come first? Were you a better writer, then a better oral speaker? Can you talk about that?

Junot Díaz: I guess it depends on who you ask. I would actually say that part of it is practice. In general, I’m actually pretty darn awkward. I guess I’m not a Caribbean person whose spoken language has always been kind of our playground. I never was one of those people who had the gift of gab, as they say. I’m not sure the two connect. I have friends who are incredible raconteurs. They tell tremendous stories. I mean, I can listen to the writer Francisco Goldman tell stories all day. But I’m terrible at telling stories, man. I’m telling you. I do better when I’m on the page.

— From an interview with Díaz by Adriana Lopez, in the July 2009 issue of Guernica; in which the Dominican-American writer discusses the origins of the name “Oscar Wao”, the role of the body in Caribbean culture, his favourite character from a book, and what he would be if he weren’t a writer:

Knowing me, I would probably be a lawyer. I’m really into our community, I’m really into the rights of immigrants, the rights of the working poor. I’m one of those little activist types. I probably would have just gone to law school.

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