Tuesday, April 8, 2008

WOW! Rutgers Wins a Big One: The Pulitzer for Fiction!

Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, my favorite novel of 2007 (and not just -- or not only -- because the most important New Jersey locations are in and around the Rutgers College campus) just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction!

If you haven't read it yet, you have a Summer Reading assignment, even if you, like me, are a few decades removed from such things. This book is a wonderful depiction of intersecting cultures and subcultures. Even if you didn't move in the same circles that Oscar moves in, you'll recognize a lot of what he's going through. And even though Díaz and Oscar went to school On the Banks fifteen years after I did, the descriptions of places and buildings in the book were very recognizable. Because I trusted those descriptions, I followed the author willingly to the Dominican Republic and felt at home in a world I didn't know at all, and touched personally by the depredations of the Trujillo dictatorship from more than forty years ago. Don't let the footnotes scare you (yes, a novel with footnotes); this book is a funny and fast read. A perfect book for the beach this summer if you haven't read it yet.

Here are some remarks about Rutgers by Díaz from a Spotlight on the Rutgers website:

“It was only when I went to Cornell grad school that I realized how extraordinary Rutgers was,” says Díaz, “in the sense that I was there with kids who were working, kids who weren’t working, feminists, kids who were anti-intellectual, kids with dreams of going on to an Ivy League school, kids who wanted to start businesses, international students. The world felt very close while you were at Rutgers. We were getting this amazing education, we were in this amazing space, but the world was never far [...] It felt like the world was given a university, not like the rich and the special and the privileged were given a university,” he says. “It felt like the world that I knew and that I recognized, a world where people worked hard and they dreamed and nobody gave them anything—that world was given a university, and it was really beautiful.”

Neither Díaz nor Oscar mention going to Rutgers Football games, but, then again, a lot of us went to Rutgers when no one went to football games (Díaz graduated in 1992).

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