Junot Díaz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on December 31, 1968. He has two brothers and two sisters. Growing up, Díaz and his siblings lived in Santo Domingo with their mother while Díaz’s father went to the United States to work. His father sent for his family when Díaz was seven. Their family lived in a poor part of New Jersey populated primarily by Dominicans.

“I know that being brought to central New Jersey was both this remarkable opportunity — I discovered things about myself I never would have discovered, I think, had I not been torn away from my moorings — but also was a real, real challenge,”

Díaz reports that his grades in high school were awful. He did however spend a lot of time reading everything he could find in the library. He also wrote a Stephen King-esque novel that he says was “garbage.” Díaz worked various jobs before becoming a writer, including working at a steel mill and delivering pool tables.

Díaz attended Rutgers University and received his Bachelors degree in History and Literature. After going to Rutgers, Díaz pursued a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Cornell. It was there that he began to write the short stories that eventually formed his first published collection called Drown (1996). Diaz first seized the attention and imagination of readers with Drown. It was an instant American classic. Assigned in thousands of high schools and universities across the United States, to the rapturous reception of students who adored Diaz’s tales of immigrant kids scraping by, falling in love, getting depressed and growing up, Drown’s success became, in some ways, a problem. Awash in literary celebrity and openly anxious about the high expectations for his next book, Diaz struggled with writer’s block for over a decade, in what he once described as a “perfect storm of insecurity and madness and pressure.”

His second book, published in 2007, is a novel called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It is the story of a ghetto nerd and the curse that has plagued his family for generations. The novel received as much, or more, critical acclaim than Drown and won numerous awards.

Díaz is known for his spare narrative style, and his seamless integration of Spanish into his English text. Both Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao explore the violence history of the Dominican Republic, and the violence that occurs on an everyday basis in the lives of the characters.

Díaz has been the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize. Díaz is a professor of Creative Writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lives in Boston.

Learn more at: gradesaver.com Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz on ‘Becoming American’