Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the United States, in his work Junot Diaz tells the story of the immigrant experience. He has taken the events of his own life and transformed them into award-winning fiction.
His father left his family in Santo Domingo to work in New Jersey, bringing them all to live there when Junot was six. Their family was not a happy one; his father, Rafael Diaz, was an ex-soldier who enforced military discipline in the home and was said to have spent a lot of time running around with other women. He left the family when Diaz was nineteen and has had no communication with him since. That problematic paternal figure appears in much of Diaz’s work.
In 2018 Diaz broke his silence about a traumatic event in his childhood, revealing that he was raped at the age of eight. He suffered with the pain of that for decades before seeking therapy, and saw it as the cause of his inability to form a lasting relationship until fairly recently. Sexual abuse and exploitation are additional themes frequently found in Diaz’s fiction.
Diaz spent his teen years reading everything he could find, but he was not a particularly successful student. However, he did go on to graduate with a degree in History and Literature from Rutgers University and an MFA in creative writing from Cornell. He was inspired by his mentor Toni Morrison to pursue writing as a career. Currently, he is the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the chairman of the Pulitzer Prize board.
Diaz’s first three published works received great critical acclaim. Drown, a collection of short stories, was published in 1999. His second book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was widely acclaimed for its use of magical realism and received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Circle Award. He published another collection of short stories in 2012, This is How You Lose Her, and in 2018 he released a children’s book, Island Born, about the experiences of a young immigrant girl using her imagination to connect with her birthplace.