Discussing cool Montrealers, a packed Rialto Theatre and the Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz.
By Alex Manley
I showed up to the Junot Diaz talk with Heather O’Neill Thursday night at about 6:29 p.m., which was early, but it felt late. While the show wasn’t set to start until 7, already a line of cool Montrealers hoping to get in snaked out the front door of the Rialto Theatre on Parc. My friends Sruti and Josh were inside with my ticket, along with probably every cool Montrealer I knew. The Facebook event indicated to me that 20 of my friends were going, no small amount considering Diaz, a Dominican American writer who dabbles in genre fiction and espouses far-left political views, isn’t exactly a household name. Unless, I guess, you’re a cool Montrealer.
Inside and upstairs, I shared my fresh-bought bag of Reese Minis (Pharmaprix, $5.57) with Sruti and Josh and we talked about millennial concerns while looking around at the gathering crowd, trying to pick out people I recognized (I saw three, one of whom, Jay Winston Richie, invented the FOMO report). I wondered whether I should Periscope the talk, but my battery was just at 16%; Sruti’s boyfriend texted her, “Have fun at Bruno Mars;” and things on stage didn’t get underway until about 7:10.
Junot Diaz, the man of the hour, was a captivating figure from his first appearance on stage to the end of the winding book signing line. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his talk was the speed with which he flipped between personas, from the trash-talking Junot recalling the melting-pot aspect of his school days to the political firebrand Junot who railed against hegemonic structures of power to the erudite writer Junot who spoke at length about his writing praxis, and even dipping into Spanish Junot at one point to hail a fellow Dominican in the crowd. It was code-switching at its finest.
No less impressive was Diaz’s perpetual quote production, as he peppered his responses to O’Neill’s probing questions with punchy soundbytes given heft by his sinewy, coarse-edged voice. Here are a few snippets that I managed to type down on my iPhone: “our specificity tends to baffle canons,” “orthogonal intervention against the canon—like fuck them, yo!,” “for lack of a better phrase, heteronormative masculine privilege,” “I just want to kind of introduce a wrinkle to that,” “braided together of contradictory impulses.”
At times, O’Neill’s queries seemed to get Diaz to do a sort of toreador-like dance, avoiding the main thrust of her questions, particularly when she interrogated him about Junior—narrator of his much-beloved The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—his pattern of cheating, and the relationship it had to his incapacity for romantic intimacy.
Still, Diaz’s liveliness shone through as he took questions from the crowd post-talk. Discussing the rise of “nerd culture” and whether Oscar Wao might have had an easier time of it had he been going through high school or college today, Diaz was hesitant to embrace the newfound popularity of geekiness. “If hegemony wasn’t good at reproducing itself through what looks like liberatory practices,” he said, “this shit would have died a long time ago.” He was met with raucous applause.
FOMO rating: “bananas… absolutely bananas.”