Pulitzer-Prize winning author Junot Diaz stressed the importance of the arts, writing and reading in today’s society Thursday evening while kicking off this year’s Latino Heritage Celebration.
Diaz tackled issues of diversity and its place in writing and the arts as he entertained the audience in the Marvin Center Betts Theatre. Diaz’s speech was sponsored by the Multicultural Student Services Center.
Diaz also stressed the value of the arts, saying there needs to be more constructive and supportive environments for artists and writers.
“Overwhelmingly, [writing] programs are often indifferent at best and at worst hostile to the interests of most writers, and I felt that there’s no place that is really safe where we discuss our work,” Diaz said in response to a question about writing programs in today’s society.
Some of the questions that arose during the question-and-answer portion of the event regarded race, religion and heritage. Diaz is a native of the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the U.S. during his youth.
“Even if you’re the whitest writer on the earth, you are writing about race, you just don’t know it,” Diaz said in regards to the influence of race on one’s writing.
When asked if he would still be a writer even if he had been born in a different place, with a nice house and supportive parents – a contrast to Diaz’s life – he said that no matter what, “I was gonna be a freak.” He explained that he would always have this art form running through his veins.
“I really believe that it is my calling. There is nothing more stupendous, and it’s not a bad gig,” he said of writing.
Diaz’s discussion also focused on other forms of art, like theater and dance. He compared the dedication an artist should have to the kind of dedication an athlete possesses.
“If you’re serious about being a writer, you better be working as hard as they are. These kids know how to work,” he said of athletes in training.
After reading two excerpts from a collection of short stories he’s currently writing, he received a standing ovation.
Before leaving, he gave some last words of wisdom: “You may not see the light, but love will guide you.”
University Provost Steven Lerman said he loved Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and that it was an honor to introduce him to the excited audience filled with GW alumni, current students and members of the MSSC.
Sophomore Paula Mejia said she had never read any of Diaz’s works before, but that she had heard good things about Diaz’s writing and decided to attend the event.
“I loved the way he talked,” Mejia said. “He was very down-to-earth and relatable.”
Mejia said she thought Diaz was an appropriate speaker for a college audience.
“This is something that he’s constantly developing and constantly finding his identity, which speaks a lot to college students who are still trying to find themselves,” Mejia said.