Junot Díaz Annotates a Selection of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for “Poetry Genius”


Junot Díaz’s break­out 2007 nov­el The Brief Won­drous Life of Oscar Wao is a bril­liant illus­tra­tion of “mis­pri­sion,” the act of mis­read­ing or mis­un­der­stand­ing that, in Harold Bloom’s esti­ma­tion, pre­cip­i­tates new lit­er­ary cre­ation. In Díaz’s nov­el, the expe­ri­ences of a young immigrant—a sci-fi nerd and gamer inter­act­ing with cul­ture high and low—brings forth a vibrant, play­ful poly­glot born from mis­un­der­stand­ing and desire.

So far, this read­ing is the stan­dard fare of crit­i­cal appraisals of the book. Now, how­ev­er, we have it on authority—from the author him­self, who has pro­vid­ed his own anno­ta­tions for an excerpt of Oscar Wao via “Poet­ry Genius,” a sec­tion of the pop­u­lar site “Rap Genius,” that allows authors to anno­tate their own work. The por­tion of the nov­el Díaz choos­es to anno­tate is packed with allu­sions to sci­ence fic­tion clas­sics, includ­ing Frank Herbert’s Dune, Plan­et of the Apes, and, of course, Star Wars. In the selec­tion below on Star Wars’ fic­tion­al plan­et Tatooine, Díaz makes a humor­ous and insight­ful com­ment on nerd cul­ture, race and nation­al­i­ty, and the yearn­ing every fan­boy or girl has to see him or her­self in the works they love.

Depend­ing on your fan­boy ori­en­ta­tion either the first or sec­ond most famous desert plan­et in ner­dom. Again when I saw those land­scapes in Star Wars I felt surge of kin­ship. Shit, on first view­ing I also thought my man’s name was Juan Keno­bi. But that’s what hap­pens when you’re an immi­grant kid of col­or in a cul­ture that eras­es your com­mu­ni­ty com­plete­ly. You start invent­ing fil­i­a­tions.

As pub­lish­er Melville House’s blog notes, Díaz’s anno­ta­tion often reads like a “line-by-line author talk.” Per usu­al, the author is as com­fort­able in an off-the-cuff ver­nac­u­lar as he is in an eru­dite lit­er­ary-crit­i­cal voice, as when he cites David Fos­ter Wal­lace, Jorge Luis Borges, Patrick Chamoi­seau, and William Voll­mann as inspi­ra­tions. The Poet­ry Genius site also includes the fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view with Díaz above. Fans of Díaz and the nov­el won’t want to miss it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Junot Díaz Reads From “Drown”

Junot Diaz, New Pulitzer Prize Win­ner, Speaks @ Google

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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