Junot Diaz elected to Pulitzer board

Last Updated: May 23, 2010, 10:34 AM IST

New York: Dominican-American novelist Junot Diaz has been elected to serve on the Pulitzer board, which awards the most prestigious prizes in journalism.

Diaz, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ and teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Friday that it was an "extraordinary honour."

"It certainly taps into the thing I love to do best, which is to read," said Diaz, who was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and immigrated to New Jersey as a child.

Columbia University, where the awards were established, announced his election to the board Thursday. The board has 20 members — 18 voting and two nonvoting. Members serve three-year terms and cannot serve more than three terms.

"The Pulitzer Prize absolutely fundamentally changed my life and career as an artist," said the 41-year-old Diaz, who graduated with a degree in English from Rutgers University. "I keep thinking, `Wow, I get the chance to do that for a whole bunch of people. Not just me alone, of course."

Diaz grew up in Parlin, NJ, and described his childhood as "working poor, welfare, Section 8, living next to a landfill." He said he put off calling the Pulitzer board about an invitation to lunch to talk about his election for at least six weeks because he was too busy with his work.

"I kept putting off the lunch, which is really kind of stupid because they were trying to give me this wonderful honour," he said.

Co-chairman David Kennedy, a professor of history at Stanford, said the board is excited to recognize a fresh new voice in American fiction. He described Diaz`s prose as a blend of Dominican Spanish and American English.

"So we hope that`s the voice he brings to the deliberations of the board as well," Kennedy said. "Someone who is sensitive to and immersed in parts of our culture that haven`t received the appreciation ... they probably deserve."

Sig Gissler, a Pulitzer Prize administrator since 2002, said Diaz is believed to be the first Latino to serve on the board.

"How come I am not surprised?" said Diaz, who emphasized that he was only the second Latino in Pulitzer history to have received the prize in fiction. "I guess that I`m standing in for hundreds of other qualified writers, artists who should have been in that position before me. That`s always what I think about when people tell you, oh, you`re the first. Man, that`s not really the way it should have been."

Besides ‘Oscar Wao,’ his first novel, which brought him recognition as one of the most influential authors of his generation, he published another book in 1996, ‘Drown,’ a collection of short stories that recounted the ragged lives of Dominicans in their homeland and as immigrants in New Jersey and New York.

Bureau Report