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SUCCESS THROUGH FAILURE
How Pulitzer Prize-winning author made something from nothing
A dictatorship, comic books, a nerdy Dominican-American kid who can't get laid, another one who can't stop getting laid, and a family chased by a curse. These are just a few elements of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the debut novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz.

The novel, which took the author ten years to write, is the literary equivalent of a musical mash-up. Or what Díaz, 39, describes as a hybrid of "nerdy erudition mangled up with working poor urban New Jersey vernacular."

Díaz wrote several books simultaneously before he honed in on Oscar Wao, and even then the novel went through many different versions. "I never gave up on Drown," Díaz says, referring to his first book, a collection of short stories that earned him both recognition and awards. "But on Oscar I must have given up at least twenty times," Díaz says. "I spent months at a time so sick of the book I wanted to throw up."

In the end, his experimentations with language and clashing cultures proved to be worth the wait. Díaz recently received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Now as Díaz, 39, finishes his book tours around Australia and New Zealand to promote the book, he feels simply glad it's done. "I'm about five times tougher than I ever thought I was," Díaz says, reminiscing on the process. "I needed to be tough to put up with all the failure that this book required."

The novel touches on aspects of Díaz's own life. His world was just as unusual as Oscar's—a world divided "between immigrant and non-immigrant, between the poor kids that I grew up with and all the tofu eaters that I did not grow up with," Díaz says.

Like many young immigrants, Díaz found himself breaking his self-imposed cultural expectations. "I was the one who internalized all those cultural standards that told me that a Dominican immigrant kid should pursue a practical career, should dedicate themselves to something material," Díaz says.

But in the end, his passions won out. "Art was what pulled me," Díaz says. "To make beauty where there was nothing—that's not a bad way to spend your life."

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