One might assume that Junot Díaz, who burst onto the literary scene with his short story collection, Drown, and followed that up with the Pulitzer Prize–winning conquest that was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, would be an old hand at negotiating the madness that is BEA. In fact, this year will be his maiden voyage to the convention about which he has heard only rumors, and not even salacious ones at that. With the eagerness and enthusiasm of a boy about to ride a bike for the first time, Díaz tells Show Daily, “I heard that everyone wanders out with a huge pile of books.... It’s like finding a library that is giving all their books away.” But for him, that’s not the lure: “The thing for me is that it is a chance to be with my own original tribe, which is readers.” And it’s a chance for his legions of fans to be with him. Díaz's new short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead) is in galleys.
Regarding the decision—which wasn’t a decision at all—to have this next book be stories rather than a novel, Díaz notes, “This is all the wrong order.” After Drown, Díaz wrote but never finished a science fiction–fantasy novel, and then came Oscar. Between then and now, he tried and failed to write a third novel, so although he finds short stories “incredibly difficult,” he was glad to have them done. He is aware that short stories can be a harder sell. “My friends don’t read short story collections,” he said. “I’ll be honest. When I said I was doing a short story collection, they looked at me like I said that I was putting out a book of haikus. I also think,” Díaz continues, “that people don’t have as much time for reading. I know this sounds contradictory and counterintuitive, but the less time people have for reading, the more likely that they’re going to read something that holds them for a longer period of time.”
The new collection is stories about love in its myriad metamorphoses. But when the brokenhearted protagonist of the closing story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” scribbles “the half-life of love is forever,” it’s clear that all love has constants. “Books of love,” Díaz states, “are first and foremost about the condition that makes love possible. For example, Romeo and Juliet is not just a great play about love, it’s a great play about incredibly specific social conditions. And those social conditions, even though they are incredibly specific, are what make themes of love universal.” And Diaz confesses about his collection: “I wrote this book out of a very, very powerful lost love, a love that I more than helped destroy. In some ways it was a love that was probably the most important love of my life.”
When asked if the theme of love makes this book more universal in its appeal than his earlier books, which are infused with Díaz’s Dominican heritage, Díaz responds, “This is where I stand opposed to the standard logic of our publishing. A white is never asked, ‘If you’re writing about love this time and not about your white issues, do you think that makes it more of a universal move for you?’ In my mind I think that being Dominican is as universal as Jonathan Franzen being white.”
As far as living up to expectations after the acclaim that both Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao received, Díaz is not the slightest bit concerned. “It’s a short story collection, not even my first, so it’s literally like being the middle child—nobody expects nothing from you—and I was the middle child, so I know this position really, really well. I am not lying. In the last 72 hours, I’ve had people literally walk up to me and say: ‘Well, we know you have a new collection coming, but when do you have a new book out?’ ”