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Oscar Wao
     

 

Junot Diaz’s  Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao  is a fantastic, sprawling novel,  fun, complex, with footnotes on Dominican history, taking place in multiple times and locations:  New Jersey, Washington Heights, the Dominican Republic.  Its hero, Oscar, is a hugely overweight Sci-Fi loving nerd, who displays none of the stereo typical “requisite” traits of a Dominican male; his college roommate, our narrator, Junior, is an athletic lady killer. No one thought it was possible to adapt this book, but I was fortunate to work with a wonderful actor, Elvis Nolasco, who plays both Oscar and narrator, Junior, along with over thirty characters, using only verbatim text from the novel.   Students in the audience participate by reading the footnotes aloud.  For students to see both nerd and bully portrayed by the same person is a revelatory experience, and leads to intense post-show discussions of bullying and what it means to be “cool.”   The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is often considered “too difficult” for many of the high school students whose story it tells.  So Literature to Life performances are gateways for teachers and students into this novel and the rich world of Dominican history it portrays.

   

At the end of the show, when we ask how many students will go read the book, there is a dense forest of hands reaching to the sky. 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has also been performed for the general public in Washington Heights to great acclaim, with discussion afterwards with author Junot Diaz, who says we “cracked the code.”  It is a book I adore and consider important to expanding the American literary canon for many reasons, not the least is that a lot of it’s in Spanish.  It makes me radiantly happy when students connect to this text, and offering their own responses, and when the author enjoys watching the poetry of his prose come to life on stage.  Check out the performance below: