July 24, 2013

Junot Diaz jokes about Star Wars in annotated Oscar Wao


Diaz reflects on his influences, including Star Wars, in his annotated Oscar Wao.

Using the Poetry Genius section of Rap Genius, author Junot Diaz released an excerpt of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao with his own annotations. He points out references to Frank Herbert’s Dune, Zardoz, Star Wars, and Planet of the Apes. In a short passage about Tatooine, he notes:

Depending on your fanboy orientation either the first or second most famous desert planet in nerdom. Again when I saw those landscapes in Star Wars I felt surge of kinship. Shit, on first viewing I also thought my man’s name was Juan Kenobi. But that’s what happens when you’re an immigrant kid of color in a culture that erases your community completely. You start inventing filiations.

In a note on a footnote of all things, he discusses the editorial process and lists his influences (including a few Melville House authors):

This is one of my Melville footnotes, where I simply go buckwild. (“Get me a condor’s quill! Get me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkwell!”) The first editor I had on this novel wanted me to cut the footnotes. I’m so glad the second editor thought they were as important as I did to the book’s point about what narratives we authorize what narratives we don’t. In the end footnotes are not anything you want to fight about with your editor. I’ve been asked if I got my footnoting from David Foster Wallace—no disrespect to DFW but Jorge Luis Borges and Patrick Chamoiseau and William Vollmann were my inspirations, especially Chamoiseau.

He fills in information about the substance bauxite, Alcoa mining operations, and sureña women’s fear of marriage to men three or four times their age. At times, it’s like a line-by-line author talk. The asides grow more personal as the story goes on. He points out a sentence spoken by his his grandfather, and later tells a story about his mother.

“My mom survived a rheumatic fever that killed her favorite cousin; by the time her own fever broke and she regained consciousness, my abuelos had already bought the coffin they expected to bury her in,” reads the original text. Diaz now elaborates:

The coffin part of that sentence is true but it wasn’t fever that nearly killed my mom—it was getting herself lost in up in the highlands of Ázua for a couple of days, until all hope was lost. She was only 5 or 6 at the time and the way my mother tells it just when she was nearly dead from hunger and thirst she came upon a talking mongoose in the brush that led her back to civilization and that’s the only reason she lived long enough to have us, her children. Because of some talking mongoose. I like to think the mongoose was a visitor from another planet. I’m way more SF than magical realista.

(the coffins below are Brazilian but I figure since we’re all in coloniality’s grip …taken by Nancy Scheper-Hughes.)

Will other authors try out the site? “We’re trying to make Rap Genius into Everything Genius,” Rap Genius founder Mahbod Moghadam told the Guardian yesterday.

Other works of literature that have been annotated on the site include William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.