96,ooo…Junot Díaz fans? holla…while the reading earlier tonight didn’t pack that many fans into Cantor, the line was certainly impressive enough. By 7:00, the line wrapped around and down University Place, past where I stood outside of Weinstein, and down to at least the Silver Center. Know that I almost gave up and headed home West Tenthers, but in a move worthy of those comic book heroes that inspire his work, Diaz agreed to have a second reading in an adjacent theater. Though I nearly had a heart attack when I was stopped by public safety in the doorway of Cantor while they checked capacity, the forces of good prevailed, and I was able to swoop in for one of the last seats. This happenstance was probably best for all parties involved…since hell really hath no fury like a New Yorker waiting in line for over an hour. While I was one of the lucky ones, the plight of the fans left outside highlights a recurring space problem with such events (there was similar insanity when Jonathan Safran Foer read earlier this semester). I sincerely hope the Reading Series can provide bigger spaces in future readings for well-known authors. NYU boasts one of the biggest theaters in downtown Manhattan. As Darrell, pronounced Da-rrell would say, “can we have it?”
But, know what? I’m willing to let it go because on this “comic-book thursday” Junot Díaz delivered. His charisma and wit won over an impatient crowd but the actual reading, from his short story “Nilda,” only lasted about ten minutes. And, while I believe everyone would have liked to have heard more, I’m cautioned by that oh-so-familiar maxim involving beggars and choosing. I will say that the reading itself was completely overshadowed by the almost 30 min. Q&A session that followed. Díaz used questions such as “what was your inspiration for Oscar Wao?” and “how do you handle criticism that suggests your book is sexist?” to delve into his motivations for writing characters such as Oscar, Yunior and Lola* that “map” the identities of the Dominican Diaspora, notions of masculinity, and lasting cultural trauma and legacy of dictatorships. If it sounds deep, well that’s because…it was.
Perhaps Díaz’s best advice came when answering a question from a writer in the room about the merits of gaining “outside approval” from others. He responded along the lines of, “If you only want approval [for your work], you don’t give people what will engage them, you give people what you’ll think they like–that’s entertainment, not art.”