- Junot Díaz and the Decolonial Imagination ed. by Monica Hanna, Jennifer Harford Vargas, and José David Saldívar
With two books of short stories and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to his name, Junot Díaz is an institution. His accessible, confessional, and intellectual voice speaks for the Latina/o and Afrodiasporic communities of the Americas in a vast number of public forums. On his open Facebook page, Díaz acts as a sharp, politically attuned messenger who relays stories of the many ugly and also inspiring histories of the American hemisphere, a region that has been his fiction's focus. After the shock of the presidential election this past November, Díaz wrote a short piece in The New Yorker from the perspective of someone like so many of the readers of this review—an educator who, faced with groups of speechless, downcast, and terrified students, was at a loss for the right words.
In short, Junot Díaz is one of us, but unlike quite a few of us, he is also a celebrity. Nowhere is this clearer than in the recent volume Junot Díaz and the Decolonial Imagination, edited by Monica Hanna, Jennifer Harford Vargas, and José David Saldívar, which the editors deem to be "the first collective reading of Junot Díaz for our time" (1). This collection emerged from a 2012 symposium held at Stanford University devoted to Díaz's life and work. The novelist himself was in attendance. This, according to the editors, was a "rare" treat, difficult as it is "to have a living, thinking, and feeling [End Page 298] writer in the space of a symposium where panelists are deconstructing and reconstructing his fiction" ("Introduction: Junot Díaz and the Decolonial Imagination from Island to Empire," 16). The introduction, fourteen chapters, and interview (with Paula Moya) that comprise this volume are all similar in their praise for the man and his writing. In the first chapter ("Against the 'Discursive Latino': The Politics and Praxis of Junot Díaz's Latinidad"), Arlene Dávila refers to the novelist as "a literary powerhouse but also a dear friend and colleague" (33). Nearly all the chapters list the many accolades Díaz has received, particularly on the US mainland (e.g., the Guggenheim Fellowship and the MacArthur Fellowship). The volume overflows with respect and affection for Díaz's person and his work, and several of the chapters riff on the privilege of being in close quarters with the author during the Stanford symposium. For instance, in her chapter on disability and decoloniality, Julie Avril Minich adds a footnote recounting how, during this event, "Díaz was open about his physical deterioration, talking about the pain he feels when he sits still for too long." This was an opportunity for the critic to think of how Díaz is "in line with … disability activists" (66n63).
Aside from conveying a sense of Díaz as a kindred spirit, it is clear that the critics whose work is collected here see him as a game changer not only in the field of creative writing, but also in terms of the new critical possibilities that his writing promises. In "Junot Díaz's Search for Decolonial Aesthetics and Love" (Chapter 12), for example, José David Saldívar notes that Díaz is "the first Latino writer working in the United States in the twenty-first century to be put forward as a major figure in the world-system of letters" (322), adding in a footnote that we can "glimpse in Díaz's fiction the outlines of some wholly different world-coloniality system of letters coming into being" (344n1). Statements like Saldívar's demonstrate how much is riding on Díaz as a brother-in-arms and as a spokesperson for the myriad ways in which the contemporary academy is thinking through issues of race, gender, and class. As a professor of creative writing at MIT, D...