Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Author Junot Díaz Mixes Voices and Personas

"CNN: Is the voice in "This Is How You Lose Her" similar to the way you speak?
Diaz: It's hard to say, because I live in so many different worlds ... the way I talk to my boys, family, work, the way I talk to my students, or the way I talk when I feel scared. The book is a highly wrought object. It's engineered. It may seem casual. It may seem conversational or vernacular, it may lead people to believe that this is my voice but if I read a page, you would begin to realize how artificial the experience is."

Honestly, I wish I had read the CNN interview from which I lifted the above before Junot Díaz's presentation at Town Hall last night. I wish I had read the excerpt provided by his publisher before I heard him address the Dominican, Latino, and African American members of the audience. Truth be told, I felt left out. I didn't feel addressed in any way, I'm not even from New Jersey (yes, he called on them Jersey boys as well). Had I been there in the capacity of a journalist, I would have done my homework, I would have read his books, listened to podcasts, studied previous interviews to get an understanding of the man and his oeuvre, his voice, both on paper and in real life. But, I was there as a library volunteer, greeting patrons.

"So he writes like he speaks, or speaks like he writes." 

Did the man, buying a pre-signed copy of Díaz's "This Is How You Lose Her" at the Elliott Bay Books table in the lobby of Town Hall say one the other, or both? I can't recall, but after catching up on my reading about the author and his oeuvre, I think Díaz has more than one voice.

Junot Díaz was welcomed onto the stage like a rock star, and he delivered, his audience captivated and charmed, cheered him on. It's without doubt that he gave a great presentation. His voice, so close to that of the narrator in his books, spoke to the people he wanted to address most. People, as book monger Karen explained to me, had for generations been told they had nothing to say that mattered, people whose language has been denied a place in the annals of American literature.

After reading an excerpt, but more so after listening to Junot Díaz address his students, after reading up, and doing my homework, I feel humbled by the experience. Last night was a celebration. And the reason I felt left out, was because I had not made the effort to get more informed. Or?

For some crazy reason the ghost of Isaac Bashevis Singer is speaking to me right now.
"What if I addressed a mixed audience in Yiddish? Would those who didn't understand Yiddish feel left out? Or better yet, since they would have read my books in translation, and also to make the comparison work, what if I spoke Jew-ish, a language everyone understand, but that sets us apart from them?"
"I wouldn't care."
"Why not?"
"Because I love the world you (re)create, the characters you bring to life."
"My point exactly."
 "Point taken." 

Books can make us feel at home, or take us to places previously unknown. If I had been able to stand the heat (literally) in the auditorium, I might have heard the author switch voices on stage, the way I did this morning Online. Who's to say? One thing I know for sure, by being better informed I'm more likely to feel at ease.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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