Lizzie Horne>Junior>Journalism>University of Maryland
“If you allow it, college can change your life. But only if you allow it,” says author Junot Diaz.
Considering his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was a product of his college years, it’s obvious that Diaz did just that.
Diaz was born in Villa Juana, a neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He lived there for most of his early childhood, and then immigrated to the United States in 1974 to live with his father who had been living in New Jersey.
Many of the characters in his works portray immigrant life and his childhood as a Dominican-American. Oscar, the main character of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is not based on any person in particular but more so the feelings of alienation Diaz experienced growing up.
“Everything I write is an attempt to communicate that experience—its difficulties and its disorientation and its challenges,” Diaz says.
In 1987, Diaz graduated from Old Bridge Township High School in New Jersey and went on to attend Keane College and Rutgers College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English. He found college to be a different yet rewarding experience. Diaz worked his way through school, meaning he had less time for school work, but more time for personal growth.
Rutgers was where Diaz truly honed his writing skills and became more open to all types of literature. He loved the college atmosphere and allowed it to transform him.
“I loved Rutgers,” says Diaz. “The people I met there, the women from Douglass College, activists, feminists—they changed my life. I grew up in a messed up isolated garden apartment neighborhood in central New Jersey. It wasn’t at all the world. But Rutgers was.”
After five years at Rutgers and a few more at Cornell University, Diaz began focusing on compiling his book of short stories and writing his novel. He since has been a Writing Fellow at Wesleyan University, writer for The New York Times and strong Dominican-American activist.
Now, Diaz is a creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Diaz says he often feels like he has the best job in the world.
“It’s a beautiful thing to help a young person in the process of being transformed. It’s a beautiful thing to work with young searching minds.”
In terms of advice for aspiring college writers, Diaz claims he has no magical words of wisdom. He insists that working hard is the only way to succeed—and if you want to be a writer that means constantly reading and writing.
Photo by AP Photo/Jim McKnight