- Junot Díaz and the Decolonial Imagination ed. by Monica Hanna, Jennifer Harford Vargas, and José David Saldívar
Junot Díaz and the Decolonial Imagination is the product of a symposium that took place at Stanford University in May 2012. The gathering brought together a number of scholars from a range of disciplines, including Junot Díaz himself, to engage in an intellectual [End Page 771] exchange that focused on the author's literary, cultural, and activist work. The anthology that resulted offers, in the editors' words, "the first collective reading of Junot Díaz" and represents a significant contribution to the fields of US Latino/a and American literatures and cultures (1). The works of Díaz are examined through a wide range of lenses, including "narrative, queer, racial, gender, disability, and decolonial theory," and the anthology thus provides a sound model for the multidisciplinary study of other US Latino/a authors. The book's focus on Díaz's "decolonial imagination" situates it squarely within the contemporary debates that have supplanted, as the editors put it, the "postcolonial frame" of analysis and "now demand a focus on colonization and decolonization in the New World Américas" (6). Revealing how Díaz's production can be read through this theoretical frame, the book moves the field forward by offering a blueprint that can be applied to other US Latino/a authors. Space constraints do not allow me to comment specifically about each of the many chapters, so in what follows I have taken a more general approach through which I will highlight some of the central strengths and weaknesses of the collection.
The book features an introduction coauthored by the collection's editors, followed by fifteen chapters organized into four sections ("Activist Aesthetics," "Mapping Literary Geographies," "Doing Race in Spanglish," and "Desiring Decolonization"). As the editors note in the introduction, the chapters "address the separate but interrelated themes explored at the symposium" (17). It is this breadth of approaches to Díaz's writings that makes this collection a must-read for those who study the author. One aspect of this collection I find particularly refreshing is how it goes against dominant critical currents that eschew incorporating biography in literary analysis. As the editors note, "Díaz's biography is not something external to the literary and cultural exegesis of his fiction. In our program era, we cannot simply consider a writer's imaginative work without engaging with the writer's biography and intellectual or institutional formation" (16). Literary critics should take note and consider the benefits of this approach.
As is often the case with edited collections, the quality of the chapters varies considerably. While some build on previous research and offer genuinely significant contributions to Díaz scholarship, others don't seem to add much new insight to the large body of research that already exists. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that some of the chapters are authored by scholars whose work is positioned, to varying degrees, outside the field of US Latino/a and Caribbean literature and culture. I imagine that the editors were well aware of this risk as they undertook the project, and it may have been the only way to achieve what they set out to accomplish when they "fashioned [End Page 772] a book that models how to bring together a trans-Latino/a range of scholars to focus on a single Latino author" (18).
As a longtime teacher and scholar of Díaz's work, I was pleased to read in the introduction that the book assesses "Díaz's short fiction, novel, essays, interviews, and activist work" (17). While the collection does engage in an examination of all these facets of his oeuvre, a careful examination reveals a certain imbalance in terms of the works examined. More than five chapters out of fifteen focus on the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; in contrast, there are about two chapters devoted to each of his story...