Faculty Seminar: "Either I'm Nobody, or I'm a Nation": Black Masculinity, Caribbean Literacy, and Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"
Wed, November 14, 2012 • 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM • ISESE Gallery – JESTER Center A230
Dr. Jennifer Wilks, Associate Professor, Department of English
Discussant: Dr. Minkah Makalani, Assistant Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies Department
Wednesday, November 14th
12 noon - 2 pm
Isese Gallery - JES A230
In her 1990 essay “Developing Diaspora Literacy,” Vèvè Clark examines the facility with which the characters in Maryse Condé’s novel Heremakhonon (1979) move throughout the African diaspora and recognize the cultures of Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. In his prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), Dominican American author Junot Díaz introduces a type of Caribbean literacy, one in which he charts multiple points of identification across the Americas. In Díaz, negotiating what it means to be Caribbean not only involves cultural references from the Dominican Republic and the United States, but also incorporates sources from St. Lucia and Martinique. Díaz opens his novel with an epigraph from Derek Walcott’s poem “The Schooner Flight” (1979), and he brings the story to a close with an allusion to Aimé Césaire’s poem Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, 1939). At the same time that Díaz draws upon the tradition of epic black male figures in Caribbean literature, he also writes a new chapter in this history by building the novel’s central quest around two protagonists—endearing misfit Oscar and his suave friend/narrator Yunior—and by introducing strong, vocal women characters. In this paper I examine how reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and its intertextual references, in particular Walcott and Césaire, is, in a sense, to read the Caribbean, to negotiate its various cultures, genres, and languages as Yunior and Oscar negotiate questions of ethnic, gender, and racial identity during the latter's brief, remarkable life.