Yesterday I noticed that Bill Moyers -- one of my favorite Baptists -- had interviewed Junot Díaz -- the only Pulitzer-prize winner I have met. I was immediately drawn to the conversation, both by the great integrity and intellectual rigor that these public intellectuals share and by the sharply different style they each bring to conversation.
Even before the interview itself, I was rewarded in the opening snippet by a reference to libraries and librarians. As I was reminded later in the interview, Díaz remembers an early childhood in the Dominican Republic without libraries, where a Bible might be seen, but where he had never seen two books together. For this future writer, one of the greatest gifts of coming to America was his immediate introduction to the local library. (It is appropriate that it was my wife the librarian who made it possible for my students and me to meet Professor Díaz a couple of years ago.)
Moyers & Company Show 151: Rewriting the Story of America from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.
Speaking for a full hour, six weeks after the re-election of Barack Obama, Díaz and Moyers have had time to think carefully about what the election might mean as a marker of a country undergoing profound change.
“There is an enormous gap between the way the country presents itself and imagines itself and projects itself, and the reality of this country,” Díaz tells Moyers. “Whether we're talking about the Latino community in North Carolina, a whole new progressive generation of Cuban Americans in Florida, a very out queer community across the United States, or an enormous body of young voters who are either ignored or pandered to, I think we're having a new country emerging that's been in the making for a long time, and that I think for the first time is revealing itself more fully to the entire country.”
He shares with me an reluctance to apply the word "conservative" to the Republican party as it currently operates at the national level. He explains the difficulty more deftly than I could and more brazenly than I would. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real conservative party in this country for once?” he asks. Instead, what the GOP currently offers is a “shelter for a lot of messed-up and toxic paradigms.”
What needs to happen is not easy, he admits, but needs to be done. He tells Moyers that it is "much harder than we ever gave it credit for to really embrace a country like this one, a country that is so dynamic and so diverse at all different levels.”
What is needed, he insists, is genuine conversation, and he and Moyers provide a rich example, and one that is not limited to the election itself. The conversation ranges from surprising differences in the racial dynamics of Hollywood and Wall Street, for example, to the importance of reading Moby Dick and the travesty of student-loan debt.
Those who find this conversation as compelling as I did may wish to hear his conversation with another great interviewer, as he spoke with Tom Ashbrook about the profound lessons of disaster in Haiti.