Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Finding my Force... and Junot Diaz on “The Total Silence of the Human Experience”

Junot Diaz on "The Total Silence of the Human Experience"

Allow me to be honest… and confess something…

I want to talk about what this silence means to me and how it has shown up in my life… the idea for the blog title Finding your Force… has to do with FINDING my strength… finding my source… finding and tapping into that thing that quiets me… for me this translates to my VOICE… so Finding Your Force – is really about freeing that VOICE of mine that has been silenced for FAR too long.

For my writers and those who just want to read thoughts from an incredible writer, Junot Diaz, author of Drown and his latest novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of this years Pulitzer.

Junot has really inspired me to change how I see myself as a writer - - he doesn't know it but just listening to him speak has moved me into a new way of seeing myself and the words I put onto the page… it doesn't hurt that he's from my motherland… which makes me incredibly PROUD~ He's a role model… I hope to be his mentee one day~

These are my notes from an interview with Junot Diaz during his book tour for Oscar Wao here in New York.

I was sitting in the nose bleed section and couldn't even get into the auditorium to see him live. I had to sit outside in the lobby of this institute where they had a plasma TV for all the folks who got there late. He talked about the many reasons people are silenced and the NEED to have our stories told.

"The voices we need are so utterly absent –totally and completely missing… anybody who writes anything is writing a fucking revolution…"

He talked about the dire necessity to have stories that truly represent who we are and the only people who can tell our stories are US….

He talked about his frustration with the libraries – that even with the many books that are housed - - he finds that there are really NO books that represent us.

"What we have is an utter distortion of who we are - - honestly if all that survives are our libraries – we're in some real fucking trouble - - 99% of who we are will be gone."

He used an example of the library he fantasizes about:

"The library in my mind is completely empty of books - - it's the size of the universe…"

"The books that need to be written - - haven't been written by people."

"At the basic level that's what drives me…. It's the vision of the empty library"

"You can take all of the books that we've written and it will fill one little cart - - it's clearly not what we need…"

He talked about people, who are afraid to tell stories, subjects that may be considered wrong to talk about:

"There's also that fact that as a country we don't value anything that doesn't participate in the myth of what we call the Americas - - so on a more micro level - - anyone who writes anything that sheds light on how life is really led is making a very positive and political contribution…"

His thoughts on writing subjects that are considered taboo… Subjects that have silenced…

The interviewer asked him to talk about/draw a comparison of books that have been written about the Dominican Republic and the examples used were Julia Alvarez's, In the Time of the Butterflies and Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa. He compares these two books and his use of footnotes.

"Both those books are closed texts - - they don't refer to other books – which sucks because if ONE book survives it should at least have a trail. Each book should serve as a labyrinth – each book should have a string to other books. So when I was writing this book I tried to think of how many books on the Dominican Republic I could name."

"If you want to increase your authority – keep other books out of your pages - - that's the best way to seem very authoritative - - pretend that you're the only ONE who's ever written a book about the Dominican Republic - - it's like Trujillo."

"You want to encourage others to think of you as a second rate hack - - who should be argued against just include a bunch of books so that people read it and make up their own minds. In this way the book isn't CLOSED… for me footnotes had everything to do with that terror that runs through the book - - that terror - - the danger of the single voice speaking. The dark lord of the book - - is the single dictatorial voice…"

"What is a novel other than an aesthetically pleasing version of a dictatorship?"

"In DR there was ONE voice and it was Trujillo…"

"For me the footnotes were A) to undermine the narratives authority because every step of the way – the footnotes pull you out of the book as if to say hey - - challenge this… look at these other books. B) The person writing the books admits to error. The footnotes pretend to be giving the history of DR but what they're really doing is providing a function of challenging a single voice of a dictatorship."

He talked about language… writing with a language that makes others comfortable (Spanish, English, Urban Intellect, Ivy League educated, and slang) borrowing language…

"You're punished for using words that people aren't familiar with - - that challenge or threaten people – you're not rewarded for what you know."

"I think there was apart of me that got sooo sick and fucking tired of it. I mean there's nothing like coming to a country that hated Spanish - - learning the wrong fucking English from all your little black friends – having to learn English again – twice – once when you went to high school and then when you went to Ivy League - - then losing your Spanish because your parents are like "No, no no ustedes son Americanos - - ustedes se creean Americano aqui" "no,no, no, you all are Americans - - you're all being raised American" and then having to relearn your Spanish but not relearning it with the accents that make Dominicans comfortable. By the end your like dude – ain't nobody fucking happy and is there a space where I can just be - - NOT an individual - - but a person where all my languages can be present and available at the same time – without ONE having to hide… I always felt like I lived in an apartment for ONE but where five people lived with me and the super came by everyday and three of my languages had to hide under the bed."

"Honestly guys - - it's only with this book - - whether good or bad where I felt like I was able to deploy my languages openly and with some sense of freedom."

He was asked the question: "Do you get shit for exposing stuff about the DR?"

He called this the "dirty laundry question"

"The bigger question I have is – who's supposed to be the audience? You're only airing your dirty laundry if your worried about outsiders judging you – but in my mind it's always a conversation within the community. I grew up in this place (he's talking about DR) it's just my opinion - - I'm sorry write your own fucking book - - we need a million versions … one person cant embrace 10 million people."

He admits that he doesn't get that question asked as much as Dominican Women Writers - - who are asked to maintain the culture of respectability.

He said, "Nobody will ever fucking ask me - - why do you have to represent Dominicans this way?"

"But everyone is always asking female writers (he mentions a female writer from Haiti I couldn't make out the name...) "Do you think your portrayal of a Haitian community is honest?" There's a lot of gender stuff that goes on. - - in a lot of ways men are absolved of those types of questions."

For him it's about keeping the dialogue open… and accepting that people WILL NOT always like what we have to say:

"Your community is not determined by a snap judgment when a book is released… it's a long term conversation - - it's a process – I think that anyone who takes a look at a book and says this person thinks this way or that way about their community is really missing the point of how art works and how complicated people are - so people can say oh – you're really fucked up - - maybe I am…."

How has your voice been silenced?
What keeps you quiet?
How did you find your VOICE?
How do we get to this place of being really FREE to say whatever the fuck we wanna say - - however we wanna say it - - and to whomever you wanna say it to - - without worry or fear?


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