Four women from Harvard Book Store stood at the back of the Brattle Theater last night, before the crowds arrived, giggling. “I have the biggest literary crush on him,” said one, referring to the evening’s reader — MIT professor, Boston Review fiction editor, Pulitzer Prize-winner — Junot Díaz, a man, it appeared from listening to the women’s chatter, with many charms.
“Oh my god,” said another, “sometimes I imagine just walking around Cambridge and bumping into him. ‘Oh, are you Junot?’”
“He kisses everyone,” said a third.
And so it was! Díaz arrived, dashing in a bright white button-down and charcoal jacket, dark-rimmed glasses, smooth shaved head, and a whisper of a goatee, leaning in to kiss the cheeks of a handful of women. In her introduction to Díaz, Harvard Book Store’s Heather Gain — the recipient of two Díaz smooches — busted a smile that let you know she meant it when she described the author as “enormously charming.”
And that’s of course to say nothing of his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, just out in paperback, the relentlessly energetic and tender story about a chubby teenage nerd, a true ghetto outsider with writerly dreams and in search of love.
But Díaz didn’t read from Oscar Wao. Instead, he read from a short story in progress called “Flaka,” about a Dominican man and a white woman with freckles all over her chest. “I’m gonna read something bad, yeah?” he began. The story was quiet and crass, honest, and again, tender. “Then we fucked to pretend that nothing hurtful had just transpired,” he read, and a subtle swoon swept across the theater.
On stage, he was gracious, warm, conversational, and above all, sincere. A generous curser, he peppered his sentences with swears. When answering questions from the audience, he alternated, seamlessly, between a casual tone and a more professorial air, with lines like, “The praxis of reading is supported by this constant inquisition, this constant questioning: what does this mean?” He talked of reading, of race, and of language. And when one woman asked his thoughts on an article that stated that Oscar Wao would replace Catcher in the Rye as the seminal high school experience text, he dismissed it, laughing. “Jesus,” he said, “No comment.”Listen to Junot Díaz read his new story “Flaka” and the Q&A here.
DOWNLOAD: Junot Díaz, "Flaka" (Live at the Brattle Theater) [mp3]