In a new interview with Paradoxa, Pulitzer-winning author Junot Diaz speaks at length with Taryne Jade Taylor about the allure of genre fiction, colonialism disguised as sci-fi, and immigrating to the U.S. at an early age (he refers to it as “a profound fracture of my reality, a temporal and spatial anomaly”). During the interview, Diaz also said that his attempt to write his new novel—which was excerpted in a 2012 issue of The New Yorker—has “ground to a halt,” admitting, “I’m probably going to have to abandon it.”
Below, selections from the interview.
Diaz on the “surreal extremity” of immigrating to the U.S.:
When as a young person you lose all your bearings, all your reference points, when the gap between where you were and where you are is as vast as the one that yawned between the DR and the US, you’re going to struggle mightily to explain not only what happened but also to explain oneself. I came to the US at six and with a single flight I jumped literally from one world to another, from one Age to another.
On genre fiction:
I fell for genre because I desperately needed it—in my personal mythology, genre helped me create an operational self. I suspect I resonated with the world-building in many of these texts because that’s precisely what I was engaged in as a young immigrant. And then of course there was the sheer pleasure of these stories, of these narratives. Say what you will, but for a certain young imaginary at a certain age writers like Asimov, Bester, Bloch, Bova, Bradbury, Brunner, Butler, Clark, Christopher, Delany, Derleth, Ellison, Heinlein, Herbert, Howard, Leiber, Lewis, Le Guin, Lovecraft, Moorcock, Poe, Simak, Smith (Clark Ashton, Cordwainer, and E.E. “Doc”), Tolkien, Zelazny were simply the bomb.
On racism and race in America:
Racism and race are still being viewed as our problem and not the problem of the white mainstream that so benefits from white supremacy’s malign racial hierarchies. We live in a society where default whiteness goes unremarked—no one ever asks it for its passport—but God forbid a person of color should raise her voice against this smug occult system of oppression, points out whiteness, its operations and consequences—well, in two seconds flat that person is the one accused of being obsessed with race.
On the irony of science fiction:
I’m not alone in noting the irony that a genre like sf, historically obsessed with alterity, should have so much trouble with actual people of color and women and LGBT peoples. But when one understands the degree to which nearly all our genres are haunted by, and have drawn a lot of their meanings, materials, and structures from the traumatic Big Bang of colonialism and its attendant matrixes of power (coloniality)— irony strikes one as the least of our problems.
Alien invasions, natives, slavery, colonies, genocide, racial system, savages, technological superiority, forerunner races and the ruins they leave behind, travel between worlds, breeding programs, superpowered whites, mechanized regimes that work humans to death, human/alien hybrids, lost worlds—all have their roots in the traumas of colonialism.