Díaz attended Kean College in Union, New Jersey for one year before transferring and ultimately completing his B.A. at Rutgers University in 1992. Yunior would become central to much of Díaz's work and Díaz would later explain: "My idea, ever since Drown, was to write six or seven books about him that would form one big novel."  He earned his MFA from Cornell University in 1995, where he wrote most of his first collection of short stories.
As David Gates wrote in his The New York Times review of Drown: "In five of these ten stories, his narrator is young Ramon de las Casas, called Yunior, whose father abandons his wife and children for years before returning to the Dominican Republic and bringing them back with him to New Jersey. In other stories, the nameless tellers may or may not be Yunior, but they're all young Latino men with the same well-defended sensitivity, uneasy relations with women and obsessive watchfulness."