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Review: Junot Diaz at the Englert Theatre

Junot Diaz

Junot DiazSantiago Vaquera Vásquez takes the stage at the Englert Theater to applause from an audience young and old.

It’s Friday night, and he’s up on stage to introduce Dominican writer Junot Diaz, one of the key speakers for the Obermann Center’s Latino Midwest Symposium, and the final speaker in the University of Iowa’s lecture series.

Vásquez briefly reminded the audience of Diaz’s literary accomplishments, including his Pulitzer Prize, as well as the MacArthur Genius Grant that he received earlier this month—“fantastico, no?” Vásquez said—and then bounced off the stage to be replaced by the long-awaited author, who was as casual in tennis shoes, jeans, and an un-tucked flannel shirt as Vásquez was polished in grey and black.

Diaz leaned against the side of the podium. “It’s an embarrassment of riches up in this motherfucker, isn’t it?”

That was the first time he swore at the audience, but it wasn’t the last. I lost track of how many times he used the word “fuck,” but the audience never got tired of it. In fact, it was quite the crowd-pleaser.

Diaz mused about the talent in Iowa City, particularly in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, encouraged the audience to read, complained about the fact that neither presidential candidate has talked about art or literature yet (“What the fuck is wrong with this country?”), all the while making fun of himself, his audience, and apparently the entire universe in equal measure.

And then he read excerpts from his most recent book, This is How You Lose Her, which he had to borrow from Vásquez in the front row. Apparently he doesn’t carry his own copy.

After the readings, he answered questions from the audience, some in English, some in Spanish, and that concluded the evening.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down, but I, was pleased with what I found on Friday night. Diaz has talent, and he knows it, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“I’m just this immigrant nerd who loves to read more than anything,” he said.