On March 15th, I had the extremely good fortune to see Pulitzer Prize winning author, Junot Diaz speak as a part of the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival. [Documented here first.] I adore Diaz’s novel, and because my immersion into the pedagogy of literature and writing has piqued my interest in the writer’s craft – or perhaps the lack thereof on occasion (not this one) I was totally psyched to see one in the flesh: A Writer. Add to all this that Diaz is something of a cultural icon these days, basically radiating the kind of geek chic that is so cool because you have to be an insider to understand most of it… But, check this out, you don’t have to understand it all to appreciate it, or in my case love it. Plus, the novel is about Latinos and you all know how I feel about them. Oh, and it has footnotes. Win.
As usual with certain aspects of my life, attendance at this event was not seamless. But no bother. I made it work. I arrived in enough time to make a comfortable entrance and see the people I meant to see. Of course, Diaz topping the list.
Sitting and listening to him – the opportunity to take in his voice live – was in so many ways, just as I thought it would be. His humor and his intelligence lending so much to what he had to say about subjects as diverse as diaspora, family, compassion as pedagogy, Oscar and Junior, Santo Domingo, hip-hop, his craft, race, New Jersey, language, the Fantastic Four, reading, geeks, Pulitzer Prizes, friends… And how, in concert, they combine to provide a backdrop for an entire human experience. There were so many things he said, quite specifically, that I wish I would have written down. I particularly wish I would have thought to record his reading from Oscar Wao. As I did not, the afternoon is captured in my memory as a collection of images of humor and ingenuous interest not only in the effect of his work on us, as an audience, but in us as people, students, teachers, writers – thinkers.
Following the all too brief (yeah, yeah – and wondrous) talk, Diaz availed himself to book signing. For this I was also excited and well-prepared. I brought my hardcover, first-edition for him to sign, and it did not go unnoticed. As we talked about the sort of normal stuff – what I do in Hong Kong, etcetera, etcetera, I mentioned that I had been met at the event with by a friend I thought he might know. So, I did a reverse name-drop and in the act of said droppage suggested that he, Diaz, may be interested in seeing another side of Hong Kong = Lamma. He was down. In retrospect, hardly surprising based on personality, but totally surprising on logistical considerations coupled with jet-lag. After a tour of duty with the refreshments (‘Can we just take the bottle?’) Jason-of-the-name-drop and I were beginning to formulate a plan. And it was looking like a good one.
But as plans are prone to do more often than not, they changed. The details of the pre-plan and the actual-plan are hardly necessary here. Suffice it to say that I ended up as part of a very cool group that got to escort a writer with mad skillz and his lovely lady friend across Hong Kong and into the wilds of Central, a place I used to describe as “Where the White People Are” – a characteristic preemptively noted by our out-of-town companions. On the way we talked about ex-pats and travel and life in Hong Kong and Facebook (aiyah!!!) and MIT and Harvard and Coachella and the ambiguous but tragically important notion of Home. Once settled in conversation floated around books and work and wine and sports and teaching and relocating and publishing and language and universities and music and Macbeth and realism and potentialities of all sorts. Here is a person who said in no uncertain terms he knows the next chapter of my experience is going to kick ass.
How fucking cool is that?
Caesar was warned of the ides of March, and much to his ultimate chagrin, I must imagine, he was heedless. For me, the ides of March brought so much more this year, that to hear the soothsayer reply in the same manner as he does to Caesar, I would not have been disappointed. I believe that the effect of the ides shall resonate with me for quite some time.