The National Book Critics Circle handed out its annual book awards on Thursday, and among those honoured was Junot Diaz for his debut novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao “ a tragicomic family saga that New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani compellingly described as “Mario Vargas Llosa meets ‘Star Trek’ meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West.” The other winners were Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat for her memoir Brother, I’m Dying; New Yorker music critic Alex Ross for The Rest Is Noise; poet Mary Jo Bang for Elegy; Tim Jeal for his biography Stanley, the Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer; and Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid.
Besides their Caribbean origin, Danticat and the Dominican-born DÃaz share some striking similarities. Both authors are young (Danicat, at 39, is a year younger than DÃaz), and both got their start after completing creative writing MFAs at New York universities (at Brown and Cornell, respectively). Less superficially, both books address the themes of immigration, murky family lineages, and the recent, brutal histories of their respective home countries. And, evidently, they’re friends “ or at least friendly colleagues. Here‘s Danticat and DÃaz in conversation in Bomb, the literary quarterly; here they share the stage at a Lannan Foundation reading in California; and here‘s Danticat discussing DÃaz’s short story, How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie), for a New Yorker podcast.