The first time I heard his voice was in my head and I loved it.
I was living in Wichita, Kansas where there wasn’t a lot of Afro-Latinos and everything was foreign. I picked up The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I started to breathe again.
I didn’t know that I hadn’t been breathing for a long time.
I saw myself in those pages. Yes, the protagonist was a man but I saw myself, everyone, I knew that was dear to me. And I remembered what I really wanted to do.
I wanted to write books. It was always about writing books.
So, in fact, I have Junot Diaz to thank for reminding me of who I was in the middle of losing myself.
That’s why reading the allegations against him was difficult. It was something I didn’t want to talk about for a bit. My friend is releasing a book, finals time was nigh and I was behind on my grading. I am the adviser of a student publication so I had to lead them through the annual transition of one editorial staff to another.
Yes, I was busy. I wanted to be. Junot wasn’t something I wanted to think about right away.
In recent months, other men I admired in the literary world — Sherman Alexie and Gustavo Arellano — have been accused of behavior unbecoming. Whether that was sexually assaulting someone or saying some derogatory things against people who look like me, my heart was a bit bruised.
But Junot? I wanted to have a beer with that dude. Have a cussing match, see who was better. My heart is heavy.
When I first met him, it was at VONA, an organization he helped start for other writers of color. He, among other writers, held space for us. I was appreciative. I am still part of that community. It’s reeling right now. It’s like we’re told that a good friend did something bad, really bad, unforgivable even.
I talked to one of my colleague about this, him being a history professor probably had some insights. He said to separate the man from the work.
Okay. But did Junot or another other person separate the women from their work when they did what they did? Did he separate the fact that the women who are coming forward about his behavior were at the beginning of their writing careers? That he was our one? That on his shoulders were the hopes of the rest of us wanting to do have successful writing lives? That his Pulitzer was our Pulitzer.
That when he allowed me to breathe is was to live?
One of my favorite quotes of his was that “you have to become the motherfucker you have to become to write the book you have to write.”
What kind of person do I need to become to move past this type of betrayal?
Should I? Could I? Do I?
I’m still figuring it out but I believe them, the brave women, I believe them. And that’s where I am, tasting my disappointment like heartburn.