Junot Díaz Visits Colgate

Junot Díaz Visits Colgate

Christine Hebert

For the first time since 2001, the Living Writers series is back at Colgate, bringing with it many talented writers and a diverse audience of students, faculty and guests. Olin Hall’s Love Auditorium was packed on Thursday, September 24 when Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz, currently a creative writing professor at MIT, presented and read from his works while alumni from around the world watched it broadcast live over the internet.

The English Department’s Living Writers course, started by the late Edgar WB Fairchild Professor of Literature, Frederick Busch, in 1980, was discontinued in 2001 when Busch retired. Although the program started at Colgate, it has since been replicated elsewhere, according to Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English Jane Pinchin.

The Living Writers course, also known as English 360, is only open to upperclassmen and is team-taught by Pinchin and Associate Professor of English Jennifer Brice on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, the author that the class has been studying comes to answer questions from 2:45 to 4:00 p.m., and at 4:30 p.m., the author presents his or her work to the general Colgate public.

The series is being funded as a lecture series, but because it is included in a course, “there is a built in audience of 50, all of whom have read the author’s works,” Pinchin said. The writers, chosen by Pinchin and Brice for this semester’s course, are all fiction writers.

“We are enormously pleased to have three Pulitzer Prize winners,” Pinchin remarked.

Junot Díaz, who immigrated to New Jersey from Santo Domingo at the age of six, began the lecture- by reading first from his 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Brief and Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao and later from one of his short stories, “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars.” While snacking on crackers and cheese, vegatables and dip, lemonade, cookies and mini quiches, the audience was captivated by Díaz’s presence and carefully thought-out words.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” sophomore Elizabeth Stein said, “but his words resonate on a personal level because they are so honest, poetic and realistic.”

“He was awesome. His attitude was unlike any author; that’s why he is so appealing,” sophomore Eliza Gomez, who has read several of Díaz’s short stories, said.

Senior Geoffrey Ng agreed with Stein and Gomez’s comments about Díaz’s lecture.

“[Díaz] is very intellectual. He thinks his work through carefully; he is very thorough and considers everything,” Ng said.

The presentation was screened over the Internet for those who were unable to see it in person. Although all alumni were informed of the online screening through a monthly ‘Gateline e-mail, a target e-mail was sent to “about 3,000 alumni who were former English majors and also some alumni participants in summer book clubs with Colgate faculty,” according to Director of Alumni Affairs Tim Mansfield.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Mansfield said.

Following the readings, Díaz opened the lecture up to questions from both the audience in Love Auditorium and those watching it live online. The questions, coming from a variety of places, covered multiple topics, including art, language and even the meaning of home.

Díaz’s responses questioned why everything was being made “so painfully simple.” According to Díaz, home can be more than one place, every country can have more than just one language and a book’s ending can have more than one meaning.

Pinchin was impressed with “the wonderful, complex questions asked and the care with which people asked them.” Pinchin also noted that she heard many people, including many students, comment on how pleased they were with Junot Díaz.

“The persona he projected during his reading and the Q & A with the class was pretty much the persona he projects in his writing: laid-back, irreverent, compassionate, profane and brilliant,” Brice added.

After the presentations, a dinner was held for the students of English 360, Spanish and English department faculty, Latin American Student Association (LASO) and others who had expressed an interest in meeting Díaz.

“The dinner was a huge success, I think,” Brice said. “The food, thanks to Chef Mike Stagnaro, was fantastic [and] Mr. Díaz circulated among all the tables.”

According to Pinchin, the Living Writers series will definitely continue, even if it is not offered every year.

“It is very labor intensive, but also a lot of pleasure for all of us [at Colgate] to have access to the voices of fiction writers of our time,” Pinchin said.