Inside Junot Díaz’s Library
Congratulations to Junot Díaz on being recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant! Díaz is the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) as well as two acclaimed short story anthologies, Drown (1996) and This Is How You Lose Her (2012). Praising Díaz for his “skillful use of raw vernacular dialogue and spare, unsentimental prose” with which he “creates nuanced and engaging characters struggling to succeed and often invisible to plain sight in the American mainstream,” the MacArthur Foundation awarded Díaz , along with twenty-two other individuals in fields ranging from journalism to biochemistry, a “no-strings attached” grant of $500,000 paid out over a five year period that provides its recipients with financial flexibility so they may concentrate on their work.
We featured Díaz in the book Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, edited by Leah Price, in which her interviews with eleven writers about their relationship with books are accompanied by stunning photographs of their personal bookshelves and libraries. In Leah’s interview with Díaz, he spoke about the central importance of books in life, and especially in his childhood. Díaz, who grew up in a poor Dominican immigrant community in New Jersey, recalls that as a twelve year old it was often a toss-up between buying books or food with the money he earned from his paper route. Reading became for Díaz a matter of survival:
“All that deprivation and pain—abuse, broken home, a runaway sister, a brother with cancer—the books allowed me to withstand. They sustained me. I read still, prolifically, with great passion, but never like I read in those days: in those days it was life or death.”
Now an acclaimed writer and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at MIT, Díaz has accumulated a vast library. He keeps fantasy and science fiction books in the kitchen, thrillers next to his bed, and all manner of books in his large, well-stocked bookcases. Mourning the loss of books that he once threw away during a move, he has sworn never to throw another book in the trash. Books for Díaz “are friends, they are companions, they are mentors, they are warnings, they clown, they entertain, they hearten, and they make me stronger.”
We invite you to explore the books on Díaz’s shelves.