Junot Díaz on Island Memories and ‘Islandborn’

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz, who left the Dominican Republic at age 6 with his family, will be speaking about his new children’s book, “Islandborn,” at the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch on March 13. Julianne McShane of Brooklyn Daily spoke with the author about the inspiration for his latest work, about a young girl who relies on her family’s memories of the island where she was born.

“I had very strong and indelible memories of [the Dominican Republic], but I have family members who came over so young that they have no recollection, and I always felt that was kind of a curious place to be, to have been born in a place but not to recall it, and then to live surrounded by everyone else’s memories,” said Diaz, who emigrated to New Jersey when he was six years old. He lived in Boerum Hill in the early 1990s, before moving to Manhattan, and now teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While the book contains colorful and evocative memories of an island home, there are also darker memories of a hurricane, which serves as a metaphor for other troublesome things.

“The idea that there’s only going to be nostalgic, warm memories — that people only have this positive connection to a place — struck me as deeply unrealistic,” he said. “I think it’s important to recall that many of us come from communities that are defined by our confrontations with political monsters, and I would hope the book functions on a deep level as a tutorial for fighting them.”

Go to Brooklyn Daily to read what Díaz had to say about how New York City figures in “Islandborn,” and about his feelings for Brooklyn.

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