Paula M. L. Moya, Associate Professor of the Department of English at Stanford University, says she’s always been struck by how interviewers avoid asking Dominican-American fiction author Junot Diaz about race, even though he writes about race.
Moya: I was so pleased when, during your lecture yesterday, you stated—clearly and unapologetically—that you write about race. I have always been struck by the fact that, in all the interviews you have given that I have read, no one ever asks you about race. If it does come up, it is because you bring it up. Yet it has long been apparent to me that race is one of your central concerns. This is why, for my contribution to the symposium, I decided to focus on your story, “How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie).” And because the story is about the way race, class, and gender are mutually-constituted vectors of oppression, I decided to read it using the theoretical framework developed by the women of color who were writing in the 1980s and 90s. Honestly, though, I feel like I am swimming against the current—lately, I have seen a forgetting and dismissal, in academia, of their work; it is as if their insights are somehow passé. But it seems right to me to read your work through the lens of women of color theory. Does this make sense to you?
Diaz: Absolutely. In this we are in sync, Paula. Much of the early genesis of my work arose from the 80s and specifically from the weird gender wars that flared up in that era between writers of color. I know you remember them: the very public fulminations of Stanley Crouch versus Alice Walker, Ishmael Reed versus Toni Morrison, Frank Chin versus Maxine Hong Kingston. Talk about passé—my students know nothing about these exchanges, but for those of us present at the time they were both dismaying and formative. This was part of a whole backlash against the growing success and importance of women-of-color writers—but from men of color. Qué irony. The brothers criticizing the sisters for being inauthentic, for being anti-male, for airing the community’s dirty laundry, all from a dreary nationalist point of view. Every time I heard these Chin-Reed-Crouch attacks, even I as a male would feel the weight of oppression on me, on my physical body, increased. And for me, what was fascinating was that the maps these women were creating in their fictions—the social, critical, cognitive maps, these matrixes that they were plotting—were far more dangerous to the structures that had me pinioned than any of the criticisms that men of color were throwing down. What began to be clear to me as I read these women of color—Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Anjana Appachana, and throw in Octavia Butler and the great [Cherríe] Moraga of course—was that what these sisters were doing in their art was powerfully important for the community, for subaltern folks, for women writers of color, for male writers of color, for me. They were heeding [Audre] Lorde’s exhortation by forging the tools that could actually take down master’s house. To read these sisters in the 80s as a young college student was not only intoxicating, it was soul-changing. It was metanoia.
Díaz is releasing a new collection of short stories in September. Díaz’s book titled “This Is How You Lose Her,” is scheduled for a Sept. 11 release.
About a month after his book is released, Díaz will the keynote speaker at Facing Race, the largest national, multi-racial gathering of leaders, educators, journalists, and activists on racial justice. Facing Race is organized by the Applied Research Center, Colorlines.com’s publisher. The conference will take place in Baltimore, MD., November 15-17 2012.