Junot Diaz on writing, on luck and on women

I tore off a page from the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine when I was in transit in Hong Kong, because it carried an interview with Junot Diaz, the author of one of the best novels ever written about the long shadows of dictatorship, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

On writing:

When I was 26, I published one story in one magazine which was seen by one agent, and I hit the literary jackpot. […] When I sold my first book [the short story collection Drown], in 1995, I was working at a job making photocopies and living in an unheated apartment in Brooklyn. I quit my job right there. I just walked out. […] My novel took 11 years to write and it was hell. There are people who come under hardship and do everything possible to make their lives easier. I came under hardship and decided to make my life, and those of the people around me, harder. […] Basically, I bit off a story that required me to become a different person to finish it. The guy who conceived of Oscar Wao is not the guy who would have been capable of finishing it.

On luck:

I look at my childhood and nothing proves to me more the utter randomness and arbitrariness of what we call success. I hear that word and in my mind I flash to every single person who was better than me and who, through a complete accident, wasn’t served what I was served. I’m here because of an incredible amount of luck. You’ve got to work hard and you have to turn everything you’ve experienced into some kind of vision, but none of that is enough. 

On women:

I would never have been a writer if I hadn’t gone to college and met feminists. The feminist project is absolutely essential to writing good literature. A large part of the planet is encouraged to view women as partial human beings. You can always tell a good writer because, whether they’re male or female, they effortfully resist that idea.