Biography of Junot Diaz

Junot Díaz is the author of Drown (1996), a collection of short stories, and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). Díaz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on December 31, 1968. He has two brothers and two sisters. Growing up, Díaz and his siblings lived in Santo Domingo with their mother while Díaz’s father went to the United States to work. His father sent for his family when Díaz was seven, where they moved to New Jersey.

Díaz reports that his grades in high school were awful. He did however spend a lot of time reading everything he could find in the library. He also wrote a Stephen King-esque novel that he says was “garbage.” Díaz worked various jobs before becoming a writer, including working at a steel mill and delivering pool tables.

Díaz attended Rutgers University and received his Bachelors degree in History and Literature. While at Rutgers, Díaz lived in Demarest, the dorm where Oscar and Yunior live in the novel. After going to Rutgers, Díaz pursued a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Cornell. It was there that he began to write the short stories that eventually formed his first published collection called Drown (1996). Yunior, a young Dominican immigrant who will later narrate Díaz’s first novel, narrates the stories in the collection.

Drown (1996) received critical acclaim from many sources, and soon Díaz was inducted into the American literary mainstream. The book was also translated into Spanish and published under the title Negocios (1997). Díaz had a two-book deal and a six-figure advance, and life looked great. However, after his success, Díaz found it difficult to write. In fact, it was another eleven years before Díaz was able to complete another work of creative fiction. His second book, published in 2007, is a novel called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It is the story of a ghetto nerd and the curse that has plagued his family for generations. The novel received as much, or more, critical acclaim than Drown and won numerous awards. Finally, in 2012, Díaz published This is How You Lose Her, which is about his recurring protagonist Yunior's adventures in love.

Díaz is known for his spare narrative style, and his seamless integration of Spanish into his English text. Both Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao explore the violence history of the Dominican Republic, and the violence that occurs on an everyday basis in the lives of the characters. A theme that extends throughout Diaz's work is the disillusionment of the "Dominican Dream," or the idea that Dominican immigrants to the United States will easily acclimate to American culture and quickly gain wealth and status. The reality for many Dominican immigrants to the United States, however, is starkly different from that ideal. Marisel Moreno explains Díaz's navigation of the "Dominican Dream" in "Debunking Myths, Destabilizing Identities: A Reading of Junot Díaz's 'How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie'": "Díaz is the first Dominican-American author to systematically challenge the fictions of success that have persisted in the Dominican imaginary. His stories stand against the metanarrative of the 'Dominican Dream,' a fiction that has lead thousands of Dominicans to risk their lives each year in a perilous journey to Puerto Rico." According to Moreno, Díaz's life experiences inform the way that he navigates this narrative in his fiction. She writes, "Díaz's personal condition as an economic exile—in particular the disillusionment caused by poverty, racism, and violence in the urban setting—undermines social constructions of glorified immigrant life." When Drown was first published in 1996, Si Magazine lauded Díaz's navigation of this theme as "mesmerizingly honest, heart-breaking, and full of promise." The review continued to congratulate Díaz's subject matter: "Tales of life among the excluded classes of the diaspora, they tread fearlessly where lesser writers gush and politicize—which is exactly their political and aesthetic power."

Díaz has been the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize. Díaz is a professor of Creative Writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lives in Boston.


Study Guides on Works by Junot Diaz

Junot Díaz wrote his first novel, Drown, in 1996. This novel is more precisely a collection of short stories that are based, in part, on the author's life. Junot Díaz immigrated to New Jersey after living in the Dominican Republic for the first...