Debralee Santos: In this new adaptation of OSCAR WAO, Elvis Nolasco performs in a one-man show. You conceived of these characters now being brought to life on stage “por una sola persona” – how does that feel/sound to you, given how deeply you imagined and long you lived with the characters Nolasco now inhabits?Is that just another iteration of the sci-fi nature of the entire “Wao” experience?
Junot Díaz: A book exists only for a reader. Once a book is read it’s your book to do with what you wish. In reading we play all the parts out in our hearts and our head so what Mr. Nolasco is doing feels to me like just an extension of the reading experience. But never in my life did I imagine that someone with so much talent, so much genius, would illuminate my characters so radiantly.
DLS: What does it mean to have OSCAR WAO come uptown, come to El Alto, a space described as “la cuna” [the cradle] of the Dominican experience in the States?
JD: If it wasn’t for the Dominican experience which Washington Heights is the heart of, OSCAR WAO would not exist. For me, to have this play in the Heights is everything, the culmination of many of my dreams.
DLS: Much of what you went through coming up in Jersey, including migration, terrible housing, economic hardship, difficulty with the English language, an absent father, plastic covered couches, is all also the norm for another generation of Dominican/Dominican-American adolescents and teenagers in El Alto and the Bronx. You’ve said: “I feel my organic unit is poor immigrant kids who want to do something to make themselves feel valuable.” Thoughts/musings on keeping it together, on feeling valuable, for a new set coming up?
JD: Each life, for all its similarities, is deeply particular. All I know is that there should be Medals of Honor for lives like ours – there should be memorials in Washington, D.C. To grow up poor and immigrant and of color in the U.S. it to have survived one of the most difficult of “normative” experiences. All I can ever say is that – despite how corny this sounds – only by dreaming did a kid like me manage to stay whole long enough to “succeed.” If I didn’t have my dreams, if they hadn’t motivated me, that life in Jersey would have rubbed me out.
Click here for a prior Uptown Collective Q&A with Junot.