Junot Díaz & Toni Morrison Have A Prose-Driven Conversation On The African Diaspora

Sharing their equated appreciation for each other’s prowess of prose, Dominican author Junot Díaz and southern-bred novelist Toni Morrison had a conversation about the black diaspora for Document.

Upon being assigned the reading of Song Of Solomon in his first class at Rutgers University, Diaz admits that he asked his professor why there was such a demand to read so many women authors.

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“The professor, laughing her ass off, told me to just read the books and ask her the same question a couple of weeks later. Of course, I came back hat in hand, absolutely humiliated, ashamed of myself, and aware of what would be asked of me at university,” the M.I.T. professor reflected.

Healing the writer’s wound, Toni Morrison praised his work, calling it “intelligent and wild,” “provocative,” and “fetching.” The Bluest Eye penman continued, detailing the moment she decided to put pen to paper, professionally. She even revealed she’s 80 pages into a new book.

After the 86-year-old author admitted she’s been sculpting the story of a forthcoming book for two years, Díaz replies: “To know that you have a new book coming out is like hearing somebody invented a new food group, so I’m very happy.”

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Morrison went on to disclose that she didn’t start writing until the ripe age of 39, because she realized that there was no one in the abyss that would tell the stories she was interested in. Here enters, The Bluest Eye.

Both literary architects shared their personal experiences with dwelling in the African Diaspora.

Toni Morrison: “My so-called cultural familiarity is highly Southern… and I came from parents who were born in Alabama and Georgia that carried those cultures with them and mixed with other people from other countries and nations. It was only when I went away to Howard University, and later when I traveled with a peer group down South, that I began to fall in love with black culture—the way we spoke and moved and sang and thought. Enormously, I was impressed with the love, the sharing of misery, and the supporting of one another: It was so different from what I had known about, except through things that my mother and father had mentioned or described, so it stayed with me. Not just the language, the sense of control within chaos, the chaotic world that they lived in; the fear that they must have held, but how they refused to let that circumstance squeeze them and keep them from loving one another or sharing with one another or protecting one another. That was the part that amazed me.”

Junot Díaz: “The neighborhood I grew up in was another one of these spaces of unrecognized cosmopolitanism or unrecognized local cosmopolitanism where there were these [elements] that brought a bunch of groups together for whatever reason. For the case of that specific part of Ohio it was steel mills and industrial jobs, and where I was in New Jersey it was very, very cheap housing next to a landfill. It wasn’t next to our neighborhood or on the side of it; you had to literally go through our neighborhood to get to it. What this meant was that the people living there were starters, first-rung on the ladder. I think that neighborhood is how I first saw the United States: a place that has brought every kind of person from all over. I lived with Egyptians, I lived with people from Uruguay, the Philippines, and the back South—“the Bammers” we called them—the Northeast African American communities were Jamaican, and a lot of my ideas around what we call the “African diaspora” began to form in that place. There I was, this very light-skinned person from an African-diasporic family from a predominately African-descendant country, and it wasn’t until I came into contact with these folks [that] I became acutely aware of this.”

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The discussion can be read in full here.