He Said, She Said: Junot Diaz + Edwidge Danticat
As someone who admires the writing of author Junot Díaz, it brings me great pleasure to share an excerpt from BOMB Magazine’s dynamic conversation between Díaz and “the inimitable” Edwidge Danticat. To no surprise, I will highlight the exchange that deals with process — offering insight(s) into the various practices and approaches of each author to the production of writing. The advantage of having a small, focused readership (if any) is the absence of a paralyzing kind of pressure to produce. For instance, I maintain a positive relationship to blogging largely due to the fact that I have creative control — I decide when to publish a post as well as the contents of each post. The often unreasonable demands and expectations of publishers and popular audiences can produce crippling writer’s block and/or encourage mediocre work. Of course, for some writers (artists, musicians) pressure mobilizes and motivates. There exist an infinite set of permutations. Beyond the expectations of others, we each have to battle our own set of fears (the voices in our heads) that keep us from finishing what we’ve started. In the words of Díaz, “I always start with the best intentions and then end up screaming.” I am interested precisely in what happens between these places (best intentions —> screaming). I enjoy/ed reading their thoughts, read on:
Edwidge Danticat: I think most folks would want me to ask you, those of us who’ve been waiting with bated breath for this book: What the heck took you so long?
Junot Díaz: What, really, can one say? I’m a slow writer. Which is bad enough but given that I’m in a world where it’s considered abnormal if a writer doesn’t produce a book every year or two—it makes me look even worse. Ultimately the novel wouldn’t have it any other way. This book wanted x number of years out of my life. Perhaps I could have written a book in a shorter time but it wouldn’t have been this book and this was the book I wanted to write. Other reasons? I’m a crazy perfectionist. I suffer from crippling bouts of depression. I write two score pages for every one I keep. I hear this question and want to laugh and cry because there’s no answer. What I always want to ask other writers (and what I’ll ask you) is how can you write about something so soon after it’s happened? What’s to be gained by writing about something—say, the death of a father and uncle, as you do in your new book, Brother, I’m Dying — when the moment is close?
Edwidge Danticat: There are several factors for me. The first is that I’m totally compulsive. If something is on my mind, writing-wise, I have do it and do it in the instant. I have to at least put down a first draft. Otherwise, I am so afraid I will lose it. Like you, I live with the eternal fear that I am not supposed to be doing what I’m doing. Who do I think I am to be writing books and shit, as you might say. So I write when the moment is close so it won’t slip away. Writing is also the way I process things and when I am done with a piece I feel a lot closer to understanding the subject.
Edwidge Danticat: Finally, in spite of Oscar’s brief life, the narrator’s life—writing-wise—ends on a happy note. Yunior says, “These days I write a lot. From can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. Learned a lot from Oscar. I’m a new man, you see, a new man, a new man.” Is Junot Díaz a new man?
Junot Díaz: I wish. I’m happier, no doubt about it, and less devoured by my fears, but I still have no handle on my talent. I don’t know how to make it work. I don’t write with any regularity or joy. I fear that it might take me another eleven years to write another book. But I did finish a novel that was threatening to break me, and I finished it in a manner that I feel reflects my hard work, and this finishing has been one of the happiest accomplishments of my life. Through all those years I never did think I would ever finish Oscar Wao, so the fact that somewhere inside me I found the strength to do what I thought was impossible…it almost makes me believe that one day I will be like Yunior: a new man, a new man.
:: Read the full interview HERE ::