Containing Multitudes

Literary wunderkind Junot Diaz's debut novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," just netted top honors with the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Jesse Ellison. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: So 10 years ago you were the hot young writer. There was a lot of expectation placed on you. Was that a burden?
Diaz: Someone said this to me and I love it: "Being a hot young short-story writer is like being a hot young pastry chef." Who the *$#& really cares in the real world … But no, it didn't help, people saying, "Hey, it's taken a long time for your book, do you think you can't write novels?"

Do you get frustrated by always being identified as a "Dominican" writer?
I think the entire universe can be found in the Dominican experience … in the same way a small, cold, gray, drizzly island nation in the North Atlantic could imagine itself the center of the universe, I see no difference why a Dominican who comes from this tiny little place and time can't also imagine himself the center.

Is there something particular about the D.R., to say that?
The Caribbean generally and the island of Hispaniola specifically is the linchpin, the pivot point where the Old World swung into the New … nothing is more quintessentially American, in the entire span of that description.