Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

New Perspectives on Hispaniola, Past and Present

Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz returned to Newcastle University in June to give a public lecture as part of the 11th annual ¡Vamos! Festival.

The author gave a public lecture I will build a great wall: Immigration and Xenophobia in the Age of Disruption as part of a wider CLACS organised conference in his honour, titled ´New perspectives on Hispaniola Past and Present´.

Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his first novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which tells of one family’s epic search for love in the aftermath of the murderous dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. In 2015 a BBC poll of American critics declared The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the best novel of the 21st century to date. His latest book, This Is How You Lose Her, was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award.

CLACS Director (2014-2016) Professor Diana Paton, said: “We’re really excited that Junot Díaz is coming to Newcastle at a time when questions about migration and border crossings are so important.

“He has been a powerful voice criticising the policies of the Dominican Republic towards people of Haitian descent, after a 2013 court decision ruled that people born there as long ago as 1929 were not citizens if their parents were undocumented. His words on that question resonate a great deal with the European refugee crisis as well as similar concerns across the Americas. And he’s a wonderful novelist too.”

This was the second time Díaz has visited the North East. He was first invited to read extracts of his then unpublished novel to a sell-out audience at Morden Tower during the inaugural edition of ¡Vamos! Festival in 2006. "I am so honoured to have been invited back to Newcastle,” Díaz said. “¡Vamos! is one the festivals I’ve never forgotten; it was a magnificent gathering. The writers, the readers, the artists and Newcastle itself—all were irresistible."

Díaz has been active in a number of community organisations. He co-founded the Voices of Our Nation Workshop, a multi-genre writing community for writers of colour and collaborates with a number of immigrants’ rights organisations.

The day conference New perspectives on Hispaniola Past and Present took place on 8th June and to the surprise and great pleasure CLACS and the delegates, Junot Díaz stayed for the whole day and joined in the discussions of the papers that were presented. Speakers included: Charles Forsdick, Liverpool University, Antony Stewart, Newcastle University,  Eve Hayes de Kalaf, University of Aberdeen,  David Howard, Oxford University, Kerstin Oloff, Durham University and Maria Lauret, University of Sussex. The papers discussed ranged from Beyond the Mountains: Dominican Culture (and its Disappearance) in accounts of Haitian life, 1928-1940 by Antony Stewart to From the Novela de la Caña to the "Cake-Eater": Junot Díaz, World-Literature and the World Food System by Kerstin Oloff.

Junot Díaz public lecture, photograph courtesy of Zander Wilson