Childhood & Early Life
Díaz was born on December 31, 1968, in Santo Domingo, the capital and the largest city of the Dominican Republic, a country in the Caribbean region. He was raised by his mother and grandparents until he migrated to the Parlin, New Jersey, U.S., at the age of 7.
He attended the ‘Madison Park Elementary School.’ In 1987, he graduated from the ‘Cedar Ridge High School.’ In 1992, he earned his BA degree, with English as his major, from ‘Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus.
While at the university, he did odd jobs to support himself and also created his most famous character, ‘Yunior,’ which he used to apply for an MFA at ‘Cornell University.’ Immediately after graduating from ‘Rutgers,’ he worked with their ‘University Press’ as an editorial assistant. Later, in 1995, he graduated from ‘Cornell’ with an ‘MFA.’
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The short story collection ‘Drown,’ released in 1996, was his debut as a writer. This work received positive reviews from both critics and readers.
His critically acclaimed 2007 debut novel, ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,’ won him several awards in the fiction category, including the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ in 2008, the ‘Salon Book Award,’ the ‘National Book Critics Circle Award,’ the ‘Centre for Fiction’s John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize,’ the ‘Dayton Literary Peace Prize,’ the ‘Hurston/Wright Legacy Award,’ the ‘Massachusetts Book Awards,’ and the ‘Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.’
The novel was chosen as the best novel of 2007 by the American biweekly magazine ‘New York’ and ‘Time.’ It also been featured on the ‘Best of 2007’ lists of ‘Washington Post’ and ‘Los Angeles Times.’ In 2015, American critics voted this book as the best novel of the century to date. The book was also shortlisted for various awards in the same category, such as the ‘Los Angeles Times Book Prize’ and the ‘International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.’
The ‘James Beard Foundation’ honored him with the ‘MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award’ for his September 2007 article ‘He’ll Take El Alto,’ which was featured in ‘Gourmet.’
He was bestowed with ‘Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award’ in 2010, for motivating fellow writers. He became the Chair of the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ in April 2018. However, he resigned in May 2018, due to allegations of sexual harassment. His contribution to the literary world was recognized with the ‘MacArthur Fellowship’ in 2012.
The year 2012 witnessed the release of another award-winning and critically acclaimed work, ‘This is How You Lose Her.’ The book won ‘The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award’ and made it to several lists of best books, such as the list complied by ‘Publishers Weekly,’ the ‘Kansas City Star Top 100 Books,’ the ‘New York Times 100 Notable Books.’
Some of the other recognitions that have come his way are an ‘Honorary Doctorate’ form ‘Brown University’ and the ‘Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Writing,’ both in 2013. The ‘American Academy of Arts and Letters’ formally inducted him in 2017.
His first attempt at writing a children’s book was ‘Islandborn,’ published in 2018. He partnered with Leo Espinosa for illustrations in the book.
However, 2018 turned out to be a sour year for him, as a few writers, including Zinzi Clemmons, Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and Alisa Valdes, accused him of sexual abuse. However, these allegations are yet to be proven.
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He works with the ‘Massachusetts Institute of Technology’ as a ‘Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing,’ teaching creative writing. He also serves as a fictional editor with ‘Boston Review.’
He has authored many essays, such as ‘Homecoming, with Turtle’ in 2004, ‘Summer Love, Overheated’ in 2008, ‘One Year: Storyteller-in-chief’ in 2010, ‘Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal’ in 2011, ‘MFA vs. POC’ in 2014, and ‘The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma’ in 2018.
Family & Personal Life
Díaz moved to the U.S. to stay with his father, who was working there. He has two brothers and two sisters.
He was a voracious reader even at a tender age, despite the challenge posed by the English language. However, he put in extra hours to master the language and spent a lot of time reading in libraries.
Díaz is a cousin of American journalist Nefertiti Jaquez.
Marisol Alcantara was his fiancée. They split soon after his ‘Pulitzer’ win.
It is claimed that he is in a domestic relationship with paranormal romance writer Marjorie Liu.
He is an active participant in a lot of community organizations, such as the ‘Partido de Los Trabajadores Dominicanos’ and the ‘Unión de Jóvenes Dominicanos.’ On several occasions, he has raised his voice against the immigration policies of the U.S.
‘Nobel Prize’-winning writer Toni Morrison is Díaz’s inspiration.
He has quoted that he has lost count of the number of times he has read ‘Lord of the Rings.’
The movie rights for the novel ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ has been purchased by ‘Miramax Films.’
Due to his intense criticism of the Dominican government’s deportation of Haitians and Haitian Dominicans, he was dubbed “anti-Dominican.” Similarly, the ‘Order of Merit,’ awarded to him by the Dominican Republic earlier, was revoked by the consul general of the Dominic Republic in New York.