University of Vermont

UVM Self-help Web Guide

A Brief Wondrous Talk by Junot Diaz

Gentle and profane, provocative and hilarious, Junot Diaz was his Pulitzer-winning, MacArthur Genius self during a Monday afternoon reading/talk on campus. The author’s fans packed the Davis Center’s Livak Ballroom for the English Department’s Writer’s Workshop Series event; and Diaz packed his hour-long presentation with a short reading and a generous round of questions and answers.

Slight and bespectacled, Diaz comes across as the coolest nerd, maybe the kindliest badass, you’ve ever met. His rapport with the audience was easy and immediate. He thanked the members of the local community who showed up — “Really? It’s so nice out” — and joked with the students who admitted to being there for a class assignment. Working the room like a stand-up comic, Diaz asked who was from his two favorite places on Earth — New Jersey or the Caribbean — and followed up with exchanges about the virtues of Montclair or the Oranges or Red Bank and quick conversations in Spanish.

Before delivering his reading, Diaz forewarned the crowd to start thinking on their questions. “Q and A is where a university shows its quality,” Diaz said, let the laughter die down, and added, “Deans say crap like that.” Then he asked someone in the front row to borrow a copy of his latest novel, This is How You Lose Her — “I left mine in the car,” he said — and offered a short reading from the book. Slow, halting and deliberate, Diaz’s delivery impelled listeners to take in the words not so much as they were read, but as they were written.

As for that Q and A, the questions from students and others did the university and its deans proud. Visit the Vermont Quarterly blog, where this piece originally appeared, for a sampling of the questions and answers.