Junot in the Park

(Photo by Meg Dowdy)

Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of This is How You Lose Her and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, spoke tonight at UT as part of Texas Institute for Literary & Textual Studies 2013 reading series. Keeping my tradition of blogging about things that don’t work out, I’ll just say it: I didn’t make it in. I got there early, but as I approached the Blanton Art Museum where Díaz was speaking, I could tell I wasn’t early enough. The line stretched around  the building, and a TILTS volunteer was (politely) explaining to the last people in line that their chances of getting into the auditorium were slim.

Fellow pterodáctilo blogger Jonathan Fleck was also not early enough, but he beat me there and I stood with him near the front of the line, where the odds were (a little) less slim. Just as we were giving up hope, through the Blanton’s glass doors we saw the unmistakable Mister Díaz surveying the crowd, which was mostly students. Díaz came out and announced to us overflowers that he would give us an impromptu reading and Q&A out on the Blanton’s lawn. He stepped onto a bench, asked if anyone had one of his books on hand (duh, we all did) and read a selection from This is How You Lose Her before answering four or five questions from the crowd huddled around him.

He talked about drawing maps of masculine interiorities and called that a man’s feminist task; he said that the role of art is to tell us that there’s nothing wrong with being human and contradictory; he talked about how the legacy of colonial power has created an economy of desire that leads too many people to love things that make them feel like shit; he said it’s easy to talk about your own disenfranchisement and hard (but necessary) to talk about your own privilege. He was charming and funny, and he tried to take questions from the youngest students in the crowd–in fact, it seems like the youth of the largely undergrad overflow crowd is what led him out to speak to us in the first place.

All told, he talked for about thirty minutes. Maybe the mini-reading warmed him up for the real reading inside. And it would have been nice to hear him speak at length while sitting in a comfortable seat (or any seat). I’m looking forward to reports from the the folks who made it into the official talk.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine Díaz more comfortable, more at home, than he was standing out there on a park bench, talking to young people without a microphone.

(Díaz will meet with graduate students tomorrow, 9/24, tickets required. Later, he’ll be in Houston to read at Brazos Bookstore. To give you an idea of what to expect when you hear him talk, here’s a recent interview with Salon.com, in which he calls Orson Scott Card a «cretinous fool.»)

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