MIT professor Junot Díaz' critically acclaimed debut novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," enjoyed another wondrous round of literary praise today, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction just one month after receiving the National Book Critics Circle Award for best novel of 2007.
"I'm just so proud and overjoyed and happy to have finished this book at MIT, surrounded by so many brilliant colleagues and students," Díaz wrote in an email from Rome, where he is on a one-year fellowship.
Díaz came to MIT in 2003 and is an associate professor in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, part of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS). He is at least the third member of MIT's humanities faculty to win a Pulitzer Prize, joining Ford International Professor of History John W. Dower, winner in 2000 for nonfiction, and Institute Professor John Harbison, winner in 1987 for musical composition.
Díaz spent 11 years writing the tale of Oscar Wao — a Spanish pronunciation of Oscar Wilde — a teenage Dominican who buries his broken heart and frustration in sci-fi novels and Star Trek action figures. Oscar's family lives much as Díaz' own family did, the author has said, balancing two lives, two cultures, in New Jersey and their native Dominican Republic.
The novel has been widely praised for the realism and immediacy of its style, mixing pop culture, political criticism and characters with visceral street cred.
"Oscar Wao" received glowing reviews when it was published by Riverhead Press in September 2007. Time magazine called it "astoundingly great," while book critic Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times said "Oscar Wao" had established Díaz as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 9, 2008 (download PDF).