If you’re wondering why it took Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz so long to publish his new children’s book, “Islandborn,”the answer is simple: Good things take time.
That, and he’s “really, really slow,” he said.
During an appearance Monday on “CBS This Morning,” Diaz, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology writing professor and the brains behind the critically-acclaimed book, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” told a panel of hosts that diving into the world of children’s literature was a bit of a slog because it’s important for him to love a book idea in order to feel comfortable enough that readers will love it, too.
“What ends up happening is, a book, you want people to fall in love with it, and love is super rare. It’s really rare,” he said. “But to fall in love with a book requires a lot of work. And if I want someone to fall in love with my book, I’ve got to fall in love with it. So that takes just a lot of work.”
“Islandborn,” which comes out Tuesday, tells the story of a young girl named Lola, and the “magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination,” according to a description.
The premise is this: Lola’s class is asked by their teacher to draw a picture of the place where they’re from. But for the young girl from “the island” who is now living in the US, recalling her origins doesn’t come easily. So she relies on her family’s memories and experiences to paint a vivid picture. Those memories, in turn, take her on a journey.
“I think a lot of us can’t remember our origins; it’s one of the things that happens. And we are surrounded by them. We hear our parents talking all the time about places they grew up around, or events that happened before we could remember,” said Diaz, a Cambridge resident. “We’re shaped by places and people that we have never ever met, and that’s something important to recognize.”
Diaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic and later moved to New Jersey as a kid, said the seed for a children’s book was first planted around 20 years ago, when two of his godchildren asked him to create characters who looked like them. But like any good scribe, he didn’t exactly meet his deadline, he said during the CBS interview.
“I feel terrible about it. I have a picture of them of when they asked me, and a picture of them when they got the book, and it’s embarrassing,” he said. “Like most children, when they find out you’re a writer the first thing they say is write me a book, man. Make it fast, yo. I’m the last thing — I’m anything but fast.”
In the book, Diaz never names “the island” specifically. He said he avoided doing so because his goddaughters — the ones who requested a children’s book — were raised both in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
“I wanted to make sure I didn’t lock one or the other,” he said. “I didn’t need to get in any more trouble.”
Steering away from his long journey to publish the book, Diaz was asked Monday about what it is that keeps him hopeful when writing.
“You’re driven by the fact that you love this form,” said Diaz. “What I do is give people the opportunity to fall in love: Fall in love with a book, fall in love with a story, fall in love with a character. And that’s not a small thing. I’ve experienced it. I know what it can do to you.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.