Words From An Artist

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This past week I was given the opportunity to see author Junot Diaz speak live and I was also able to meet him, which has been genuinely one of the biggest blessings in my life.  It is not everyday that a person can personally listen to and learn from an individual who is the figure you aspire to be.  Diaz is an accomplished author, who has gained both respect from critics and loyalty from readers, which is what I would like to achieve one day.  I’ll be honest, prior to this fall semester, I had no idea who Junot Diaz was.  However, throughout the past couple of months, I have been able to read some of his work and learn more about him (and I’ll definitely continue to follow his work).  With that being said, Diaz has certainly earned a place as one of my biggest inspirations as an author and as an artist, which is something I will forever be grateful for.

The main thing that I found is that Diaz writes from an honest place.  He uses his own life, emotions, and perspective to help shape his work as a whole.  Rather than writing what he thinks people will like or saying what seems to be appropriate, Diaz does not hold back.  He simply tells the truth no matter what, which is something I can genuinely respect.  Diaz is a man who knows the struggle.  He has lived through hardship and he is realistic enough to never let go of those experiences; however, Diaz is also brave enough to not let those moments define him.  Diaz could’ve easily have become an engineer or entered a more “practical” field, but he instead chose to pursue his own dream and become an artist.

During his talk, Diaz explained the complications that come with becoming an artist.  Success and fame are generally not included in the equation.  An artist’s views will constantly be challenged, undermined, and ignored.  To be an artist is to take the off beat path that will be an uphill battle your entire life, but, if you’re a true artist, it’ll be worth it.  If you achieve the excellence you work so hard to get as an artist, then that is the real success story.  Success does not necessarily equate selling five million copies of your book or getting a movie deal.  Yes, those things would be nice, but success is more about your personal fulfillment.  The question you need to be asking when you wonder about your accomplishments sounds more like “is your work excellent?”  That is what will give you success.

Sure, your first project can be an overnight success, but try to rush your sophomore release and you’ll get a mediocre product that has been watered down by the pressures of success.  That excellence or success won’t last you long then.  I’ve seen it happen and I think this hurried path is much more detrimental to your artistic soul than a delayed comeback project.  It was particularly comforting to know that Diaz’s first book went virtually unnoticed by everyone.  At the time, nobody cared about his work or the name Junot Diaz, no matter how excellent the quality of his work was.  It wasn’t until Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for his second book that he began to get some recognition for his excellence.  Even then, Diaz attributes many of his awards to luck.  Not only is the guy humble, but he realizes the extraordinary amount of talent that goes unnoticed.  He knows, mainly because he’s been there, that there are so many artists creating top-notch work that will never get praised for it, but what matters is that they continue to create excellence, fulfilling their own dreams and amounting to their personal success.

It took Diaz 16 years to write three books.  It took him 11 of those years to finally be acknowledged for his writing.  It takes some authors two years to write a whole series, which is intimidating for someone like me.  I like to take my time with my work and I always wondered how I could ever possibly match up to the speed of other writers, but Diaz taught me that the key is I don’t have to.  He admitted that he, at times, loses morale when he sees so many other writers pumping out books like they’re working in a factory.  He confessed that he has to fight to ignore the voice that mocks his pace and style of writing, but the important thing is that he succeeds in ignoring that voice every time and focuses on his own work, rather than that of others.  Once you choose speed, fame, and wealth over the authenticity and excellence of what you release, you’ll never know success.  You’ll lose any consistency that you have that can lead to a deeper success.  You can’t jeopardize your artistry for something so superficial.  If you do, then you never really were an artist to begin with.

After his talk, I was able to tell Junot Diaz about my own dreams of becoming an author.  After calling me “negra” (a spanish term of endearment) with a smile on his face and listening to what I had to say, he looked me in the eyes and said “Good Luck.”  There was definitely a warning for the difficulties that will come from the choice I’ve made, but there was also a lack of doubt.  As much as he may not want to admit it, Diaz is successful.  He has gained an enormous amount of respect and recognition for his work, while never jeopardizing the truth that he speaks.  Diaz is proof that an artist can be successful.  He proved that I can be an artist and be successful, which he made sure to include in his tone.  With the words “good luck” and his body language, Diaz was actually saying “it’s going to be tough, but it’s not impossible, so good luck.”

If I took anything away from my experience of seeing Diaz speak live, it would be his emphasis on our world’s necessity for artists.  Art is what brings life to our world and it is the one thing that people will truly miss when it’s gone.  This need for artistry is what has fortified my belief in my future.  Diaz’s words and legacy have given me hope to do what I love.  I feel blessed to have been given this opportunity.  I feel so much more inspired after speaking to someone like Junot Diaz who has been where I want to go and, more importantly, was willing to share his knowledge with me.

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About Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the mainland United States, I graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and am a 2016 VONA Voices Alumna. I currently perform spoken-word in the greater Washington D.C. area and have previously performed in Philadelphia, Miami, and the Dominican Republic. Most recently, I have been published in Public Pool, Spillwords, and The Acentos Review, and Here Comes Everyone: East & West Issue.

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