MIT professor Junot Díaz has won the National Book Critics Circle 2007 award for fiction for his first novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."
"I'm proud that the invented lives of a Dominican family could reach into so many hearts — proof positive that the particular is the universal," Díaz told the MIT News Office in an email from Rome, where he is on a one-year fellowship in literature.
"I definitely could not have finished this novel without the support of my chair, James Paradis, my mentor, Kenneth Manning, and my former dean, Philip Khoury, and of course my wonderful, brilliant kooky students," added Díaz, who came to MIT in 2003 and is an associate professor in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, a program in MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS).
Paradis, Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing and Humanistic Studies and head of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, said the award indicates that Díaz's novel had resonated with a broad audience.
"He has appealed to a whole cross-section of critics and that's a very gratifying thing. We're thrilled that he won it. It's well-deserved — he's a writer for our times," Paradis said, adding that Díaz was an "excellent fit" with MIT.
"He's a terrific teacher and he's interested in a lot of the things MIT students are — computer games, popular culture, science fiction, for example — but also interested by serious writers like Faulkner," Paradis said.
"Oscar Wao" received glowing reviews when it was published by Riverhead Press in September 2007. At the time, Time magazine called Díaz's novel "astoundingly great," while book critic Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times said "Oscar Wao" had established Díaz as him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.
Time and New York Magazine selected "Oscar Wao" as the best novel of 2007.
Díaz is also the author of a 1996 short story collection, "Drown." He has published work in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and Best American Short Stories.
Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New Jersey with his parents when he was 6. He received the BA from Rutgers and the MFA from Cornell.
Founded in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle has about 500 members. Past winners of the group's best novel award include E.L. Doctorow, John Updike and Toni Morrison.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 19, 2008 (download PDF).