Junot Diaz MFA ’95 won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for distinguished fiction by an American author for his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which was published by Riverhead Books in 2007.
Diaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic, and raised there and in New Jersey, received his Master of Fine Arts from Cornell after graduating from Rutgers. He was then on the faculty for a year teaching Creative Writing and freshman writing seminars at Cornell.
According to the book’s jacket, Oscar Wao is about “a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd.”
The book was greatly anticipated since it was published 10 years after Diaz’s last book, a collection of short stories called Drown.
Prof. Ernesto Quiñonez, English, who knows Diaz from New York City and introduced the author when he spoke at Cornell last year, said, “This book shows that it is okay to take your time. We’re living in the ‘Now Now Now Age,’ but a novel takes time … 10 years was worth the wait. It’s wonderful.”
Jackie Reitzes MFA ’07, a lecturer in the creative writing department, teaches Junot’s collection of short stories, Drown, in the writing seminar she teaches. She said she teaches Diaz because “his stories are very beautiful and reflect a harsh reality in an artistic way. They teach us, and they are fun to read.”
Drown was based on stories Diaz wrote for his MFA thesis.
His onetime teacher, Prof. Stephanie Vaughn, English, the director of the Program in Creative Writing, stated in an e-mail, “His [past] work is funny, and it is devastating. There are scenes so brutal that you want to look away, and scenes so heartbreaking that you cannot believe that you are still holding the book in your hands, but he has the gift to keep you reading.”
He returned to campus to give a lecture and reading last spring, and is also scheduled to give a reading in the Spring 2009 semester.
Currently, Diaz lives in New York City and Boston. He is a tenured professor at MIT.
The $10,000 Pulitzer Prize was decided by Elizabeth Taylor, a book critic at the Chicago Tribune; Francine Prose, an author and critic; and Oscar Villalon, a book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Other finalists in this category were Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Shakespeare’s Kitchen by Lore Segal (The New Press).