I've been a Junot Díaz fan for a while, and not just because of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Somewhat oddly, he's also been my longtime Dominican food Sherpa–thanks to a deeply knowledgeable guide to Upper Manhattan he wrote for Gourmet magazine many years ago. (I've been consulting it ever since and am now a regular at Malecon.)
So when I heard the Dominican American author was reading from his new children's book, Islandborn, this Friday at the United Palace of Cultural Arts, I knew I wanted to mention the event somehow.
Then, earlier this week, Díaz surprised everyone with a harrowing account in The New Yorker of his sexual assault when he was eight years old. Whoa.
The astoundingly candid story of his rape and its aftermath is an amazing #MeToo moment about suffering and silence that is bound to help countless people. By keeping his assault bottled up for so long, Díaz tells how he headed down a long road filled with unchecked drinking, cheating, and thoughts of suicide.
Díaz doesn't mention his new book in The New Yorker essay, and with reason: the two tell completely different stories. Islandborn is a happier, fictional tale about a little girl named Lola who is too young to remember the country where she emigrated from as a baby. Using the memories of her friends and family, she is able to bring to life the land of her birth.
At Friday's event, presented by the Word Up Community Bookshop, Díaz's reading will be followed by a Q&A and a book signing (you can buy tickets with or without the book included).
Díaz writes movingly in The New Yorker about being unable to open up when he meets people at signings who broach the topic of sexual assault. It makes me wonder if, given the right opportunity, things will be different going forward.
Photo, top right: Nina Subin/Penguin Random House