I attended Junot Diaz’s reading in Virginia on Friday night and have to say I left totally excited to read his new book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had admired the excerpt that had appeared in The New Yorker sometime this last year, so I was pleased that this was one of the two segments he read. (Before reading that section, he talked about how hard it is to write in the second person, saying that he still liked to experiment with that point of view; in my opinion, that chapter was definitely a successful second person experiment. The main character’s teenage sister [I believe] is asked to confirm that her mother has a lump in her breast: seems to me that the distance of the second person pov was a useful device to mirror the embarrassment and horror of the moment.)
I should have taken more notes, but I thought I was geeky enough for sitting myself plop in the front row. One thing that struck me (out of a dozen other things that struck me) was when someone asked about how he knew what to keep in the book and when he was done. He went on a fascinating riff about the difference between the unconscious—which is providing the raw material—and the conscious, which is, essentially, translating the material into words. Two different sides are needed for the process. And yet writers typically have a charming creation myth about why they become a writer, why they’re a creative person (i.e. found escape in books, felt silenced as a child and now found a voice) without ever thinking about the other side, the critical self and the myth of where that might have come from. So he thought it was important to examine that side of ourselves as well, as difficult as it might be: What are the components of the critical self? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your critical self? What are the influences behind that side of yourself? That’s how to come to terms with the duality of the unconscious and the conscious sides of writing.
Ugh…he said it better. My advice: if he’s reading in your area, make an effort to attend. And for God’s sake, if you ever have a chance to study with him, do so. I bet he’s a fantastic teacher! And if you’re in New York City, check out his recent article in Gourmet about where to get the best Dominican food! (Alas, no link, but here's the issue info.)