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Live Reviews

Spoken Word: Junot Diaz + Aleksandar Hemon
July 17, 2008

By Ernest Barteldes

Central Park Summerstage
New York City

A mild summer evening greeted an audience formed both by a diverse group of literary fans formed by immigrants and locals for a highly satisfying night of spoken word dedicated to the works of two foreign-born authors, Alexsandar Hemon and Junot Diaz


The Bosnian-born author opened the proceedings by reading a section of his latest novel, Nowhere Man (no direct connection to the Beatles hit of the same name), which hits bookstores later in September. From what we could grasp, the book seems like a modernized, Euro-centric version of Jack Kerouac's On The Road.


Though he was well-received by the highly polite audience (the only noises one could hear were children playing outside the Summerstage area), he struck me as a bit uneasy to be speaking to such a large audience, most of them who were there to hear Dominican-born Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz, who was recently profiled on a major TV network after the success of his recently published novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.


When Diaz hit the stage, he refrained from reading from his new book, showcasing yet a work in progress. Before he read, he warmed up the audience with jokes about the people sitting in the bleachers, which are located in the rear of  Rumsey Playfield (“didn't you get here early enough?”).

He explained he was reading from an unfinished manuscript “to encourage young writers.”  The story related to his Dominican heritage and the struggles that new immigrants face when living in the US,

but it had a lot of sense of humor, specially when it related to the narrator's mother.


Diaz seemed much more at ease speaking to large audiences, and that rapport quickly came across. At one moment, he asked how many Dominicans were in attendance, and about half of those present raised their hands.


After he read, he was joined by Hemon and mediator Saskia Sassen, and they discussed their literary styles and also talked about being immigrant writers living in the US. Asked about the historical background to which he sets his novels, Hemon said that he uses it because he feels that “history does not care for us,” meaning that what goes on in Eastern Europe does not concern many in the rest of the world.  The floor was then open to questions, and many had questions directed to Diaz on his writing and about his c