Junot Díaz

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Drown Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Junot Díaz's Drown. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Junot Díaz

Junot Díaz is a Dominican American novelist and professor of creative writing. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Díaz completed his BA at Rutgers University where he was involved in Demerest Hall, a residential house dedicated to creative writing. After graduating from Rutgers, Díaz applied to various MFA programs. For his applications, he created an autobiographical character, “Yunior,” whom he intended to write several novels about. Yunior became the protagonist in much of Díaz’s published work including his first published anthology of short stories, Drown and his 2008 Pulizer Prize-winning-novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Díaz currently lives in Massachusetts, serving as a professor of creative writing at MIT and the fiction editor of the Boston Review.
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Historical Context of Drown

Throughout his career, Díaz’s work has been influenced by trends in both legal and illegal immigration that affect Dominican and Latin American immigrants across America and the world. At the time of Drown’s publication in 1996, America was once again facing a critical conversation about legal immigration following the Immigration Act of 1990, which limited the number of visas allotted to the extended families of legal immigrants, while controversially extending non-immigrant visas to “highly skilled workers.” Díaz’s discussions of success and the personal “inertia” needed to transcend and escape his neighborhood in Drown carry the weight of the evolving discussion of US immigration, which increasingly viewed citizenship as a merit and skill-based right, and sought to cast undocumented immigrants as “unskilled” or “lazy”. 

Other Books Related to Drown

When working on his first short story collection, Drown, Díaz explained that he was largely influenced by writers like Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros, whose work is concerned with narratives of immigrants and displaced communities. Much like Drown, Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street follows a Latina-American immigrant growing up and expanding her worldview in a Chicago suburb, and Morrison’s work, including Beloved and Song of Solomon, grapples not only with questions of race in the American landscape, but also the confining and highly-gendered nature of home and family environments. As Díaz’s first published work, Drown was in many ways a prequel to both his 2006 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which tracks much of Yunior’s adolescence) and his 2012 short story collection This is How You Lose Her (which focuses specifically on the adult Yunior’s past romantic relationships).
Key Facts about Drown
  • Full Title: “Drown”
  • When Written: 1995
  • Where Written: Ithaca, New York (at Cornell University)
  • When Published: 1996
  • Literary Period: Modern
  • Genre: Short Story, Autobiographical Fiction
  • Setting: An urban neighborhood in New Jersey. 
  • Climax: Yunior’s revelation that Beto sexually assaulted him when they were teenagers.
  • Antagonist: Yunior’s inability to make peace with the way his friendship with Beto ended
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Drown

From the bottom up. Junot Díaz paid his way through Rutgers by working odd jobs as a dishwasher, a deliver boy, and at a steel company. He notes that he has “seen the US from the bottom up,” achieving success both in spite and because of personal hard work and familial hardship. 

Activism. Throughout his career, Díaz has been an active in pro-Dominican and Latinx organizations, both at home and abroad. Most notably, Díaz cofounded the Voices of Our Nations Workshop, a California-based writer’s workshop aimed to nurture and support emerging writers of color.