Junot Diaz Waos Swarthmore
by Yiwen Looi '09
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz met with students before giving a public lecture.
Perhaps one of the best things about attending Swarthmore is getting to meet the people who write the books you read for class. Sometimes those people may be your own professors, and other times they are Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists like Junot Diaz, who delighted a packed audience at the Lang Performing Arts Center in November.
Diaz had actually arrived at Swarthmore an hour before the talk - he took the train - to meet in a smaller group setting with students who had read his The Brief Wondrous Life ofOscar Wao in their English Literature classes, as well as members of campus intercultural groups. During the informal meeting, students mingled with Diaz over snacks and drinks, and participated in a short Q&A about specific aspects of the novel and its writing process.
Needless to say, most of us who were present followed him to the LPAC, eager to get the most out of his visit. Students, faculty, and staff members alike thronged the LPAC to hear Diaz read from his book and get his autograph, even though it had been raining persistently all morning.
Taking his cue from the rain, Diaz started off his talk by choosing from Oscar Wao an excerpt where young Lola discovers that her mother had breast cancer. It was a sober, moving passage in a book known for being funny, and understandably the first question from the audience was why he had decided to read it. Diaz said that he himself had a family member who suffered from cancer. Reflecting on his own experience of "being transported to Cancer Planet," Diaz remarked, "The diagnosis came with weather like this, and I was reminded of it. It's very sentimental."
That was, however, the only moment of sobriety in the talk. Diaz consistently gave funny, witty answers during the session, including calling on someone because of his "big biceps." He was also shocked when he learned that all the students were there to see him without an extra-credit incentive from their professors and expressed further incredulity when someone offered that "there is no extra-credit at Swat." He went on to say that he even had to give extra-credit to his students at MIT all the time to make them attend events that he thought were beneficial.
Diaz stayed behind after the talk, unhurriedly signing books, T-shirts, posters (he even signed a collection of Shakespeare's works and made out dedications to entire extended families), making conversation, and taking pictures until everyone who stood in line had managed to interact with him up close. A representative from the College Bookstore was on hand with copies of both of Diaz's books in English and Spanish for those who had forgotten theirs. The signing session lasted over an hour and Diaz was all smiles throughout. He had unquestionably won over Swarthmore: one student was overheard declaring that she had already made plans to see him again in Philadelphia that evening.