We think it’s safe to say that 2012 is a great year for Junot Diaz.

He just released his third book to critical acclaim (and outright gratitude from the readers who wait years for new material). Now he can add being a MacArthur “genius” to his list of accomplishments.

Each year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards “genius grants” to individuals whose creativity and potential lends themselves to an investment in their future work. Each MacArthur Fellow (the formal name of the awards) receives $500,000 ($100,000 each year, spread over five years) to spend as they wish, in the pursuit of a new project.

Diaz was surprised with the award last month in Chicago and once the award was made public he wrote on his Facebook page to show his gratitude:

“Thanks to everyone who wrote a letter to make this happen. Thanks to all the teachers and librarians and booksellers who kept me in circulation through the long silences. Thanks to the beautiful readers who did the same. This honor belongs to my community, whose sacrifices and courage and yes genius made me possible. Gratitude without end.”

Diaz joins other Anisfield-Wolf award winners who have also been named MacArthur Fellow, including Annette Gordon-Reed, Arnold Rampersad, William Julius Wilson, and John Edgar Wideman.

Please join us in congratulating him on a job well done! 

Do you have to be a voracious reader to be a splendid writer? Some might argue that consuming mass quantities of the written word is the only way to a successful career as a master of it. 

In his 16-year career as a novelist, Junot Diaz has only written two novels and one collection of short stories. In a recent interview with the New York Times, he confesses why it takes him so long to produce new material and where he gets the inspiration from. He also talks about his “one superpower”—reading. 

On coming up with his collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her:  

That’s why I never want to do this again. It’s like you spend 16 years chefing in the kitchen, and all that’s left is an amuse-bouche.

On his one “superpower”:

I read a book a week, man. And I don’t have a great memory, but I have a good memory about what I read.

On whether he’ll ever be able to pick up the pace when it comes to producing material:

The thing is, you try your best, and what else you got? You try your best, really, that’s all you can do. And for me, my best happens really so rarely. I was so always heartened by people like Michael Chabon who write so well and seem to write so fast. Edwidge Danticat writes really well and really fast. I was always heartened by them. I keep thinking one day it’ll happen. It might.

Read the full article here.

2008 winner Junot Diaz has his fans on the edge of their seats as they wait for his latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, to hit bookshelves in September. The collection of stories focuses on the many facets of love—maternal love, romantic love, illicit love and so on. It has gotten rave reviews from critics, including one who called it “ribald, streetwise, and stunningly moving.”

Diaz spoke at the author breakfast at the 2012 Book Expo and gave the audience a taste of what they could expect from the book. Check it out in the video above. 

During a two-day symposium at Stanford University, Junot Diaz had the opportunity to sit down with editor Paula M.L. Moya to discuss his work and his thoughts about his intersection of race and literature. This particular answer, in response to Moya’s question about whether people of color unconsciously fuel white supremacy, stood out to us: 

How can you change something if you won’t even acknowledge its existence, or if you downplay its significance? White supremacy is the great silence of our world, and in it is embedded much of what ails us as a planet. The silence around white supremacy is like the silence around Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or the Voldemort name which must never be uttered in the Harry Potter novels. And yet here’s the rub: if a critique of white supremacy doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction. There’s that old saying: the devil’s greatest trick is that he convinced people that he doesn’t exist. Well, white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.

Read the entire interview here

Diaz will also be headlining the upcoming Facing Race conference in November 2012. The three-day event is the largest gathering of journalists, artists, activists and leaders assembled in one area to discuss racial justice. As a writer whose work dives deeply into the racial issues and dilemmas, we definitely think Diaz is well suited to address the attendees. See the trailer for the event below.

Some of our very own Anisfield-Wolf winners will be in attendance at the 2012 Book Expo at the Javits Center in New York City, June 5-7. The Book Expo is one of the largest events in the literary field, with authors, librarians, editors, and other industry professionals in attendance each year. Among the authors will be 2008 winner Junot Diaz and 2006 winner Zadie SmithClick here for ticket information.

Junot Díaz

Junot Diaz

Tuesday, June 5
Adult Book & Author Breakfast
8:00 am – 9:30 am
Special Events Hall

 

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith 

Thursday, June 7
Adult Book & Author Breakfast
8:00 am – 9:30 am
Special Events Hall

Junot Díaz

Junot Diaz’s short story collection This Is How You Lose Her will be published in September. It’s Diaz’s first book since his 2007 debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which, in addition to the 2008 Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award. {New York Times}

Zadie Smith

It hasn’t been officially confirmed but the rumor mill is buzzing that Zadie Smith’s latest book will be released in September. No doubt fans of White Teeth and On Beauty are waiting anxiously. {Sarah Weinman}

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s 10th novel, Home, will be released May 8. It follows an African American Korean war veteran who returns to his Georgia community a changed man. {L.A. Times}

What makes a writer a writer? It’s a simple question with many possible answers and if you ask 10 authors, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get 10 different answers. Junot Diaz answered the question as only he can:

My novel, which I had started with such hope shortly after publishing my first book of stories, wouldn’t budge past the 75-page mark. Nothing I wrote past page 75 made any kind of sense. Nothing. Which would have been fine if the first 75 pages hadn’t been pretty damn cool.

But they were cool, showed a lot of promise. Would also have been fine if I could have just jumped to something else. But I couldn’t. All the other novels I tried sucked worse than the stalled one, and even more disturbing, I seemed to have lost the ability to write short stories. It was like I had somehow slipped into a No-Writing Twilight Zone and I couldn’t find an exit. Like I’d been chained to the sinking ship of those 75 pages and there was no key and no patching the hole in the hull. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but nothing I produced was worth a damn….

I was living with my fiancée at the time (over now, another terrible story) and was so depressed and self-loathing I could barely function. I finally broached the topic with her of, maybe, you know, doing something else. My fiancée was so desperate to see me happy (and perhaps more than a little convinced by my fear that maybe the thread had run out on my talent) that she told me to make a list of what else I could do besides writing. I’m not a list person like she was, but I wrote one. It took a month to pencil down three things. (I really don’t have many other skills.) I stared at that list for about another month. Waiting, hoping, praying for the book, for my writing, for my talent to catch fire. A last-second reprieve. But nada. So I put the manuscript away….

One night in August, unable to sleep, sickened that I was giving up, but even more frightened by the thought of having to return to the writing, I dug out the manuscript. I figured if I could find one good thing in the pages I would go back to it. Just one good thing. Like flipping a coin, I’d let the pages decide. Spent the whole night reading everything I had written, and guess what? It was still terrible. In fact with the new distance the lameness was even worse than I’d thought. That’s when I should have put everything in the box. When I should have turned my back and trudged into my new life. I didn’t have the heart to go on. But I guess I did….

Because, in truth, I didn’t become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.

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