Recap: Junot Diaz in conversation with Heather O'Neill

It was a (thankfully) mild evening when the Rialto theatre opened its doors to Junot Diaz and Heather O'Neill, an event co-presented by the Blue Metropolis Festival and your humble librairie Drawn & Quarterly. 

Attendees started arriving well before the doors even opened, and the enthusiasm was palpable as we all waited for everyone to get inside. (We filled the theatre to capacity!)

Greg McCormick of Blue Met introduced the author to the stage, and Diaz was given the Premio Metropolis Azul, an award given to an author whose work touches on Spanish-language culture or history. 

Presented to him by the award's sponsor, producer and director Ginny Stikeman, the prize kicked off a night to remember.

In conversation with Montreal writer Heather O'Neill (Lullabies for Little Criminals, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Daydreams of Angels) Diaz began by discussing his work (he keeps trying to write fantasy and it never works), his process (he assured the audience that they could never write more slowly that he does) and how his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, explores what his experience would have been as a science fiction nerd growing up without the protection of tough older siblings.

The conversation then tackled masculinity, gender roles, and the lack of intimacy in men, and how these concepts make their way into his work (Oscar Wao and his story collections Drown and This is How You Lose Her), before turning to the after-effects of colonialism, immigration policy, and the continuing legacy of imperialism. 

“White supremacy is like the patriarchy
You might think it doesn't exist, but fuck you, it does.”

He spoke about how diversity in writing (it isn't white people writing about people of colour, but people of colour writing period), and his talk as a whole was a charming blend of literature, politics, and personal anecdote. When talking about cultural capital and how it doesn't translate, told the audience how his mom didn't care about his Pulitzer, instead asking how much money he got for it, "after taxes." (Aside from the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction he has also received a MacArthur "genius grant," a National Book Critics Circle Award and many others.)

At the end of the talk, Diaz received a standing ovation from the packed audience before spending over an hour talking to fans, taking selfies, signing books, and cracking jokes. 

Thank you to Greg McCormick from Blue Metropolis, Ginny Stikemen, the staff at the Rialto theatre, Junot Diaz, Heather O'Neill, and everyone who came! It was a fantastic night.

Photo credit: Michel Pinault

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