G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers: The Octopus Escapes by Maile Meloy, illustrated by Felicita Sala

Reading with... Jaquira Díaz

photo: Maria Esquinca

Jaquira Díaz is the author of Ordinary Girls (Algonquin Books), a Summer/Fall 2019 Indies Introduce selection. Her work has been published in Rolling Stone, the Guardian, Longreads, the Fader and T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and included in The Best American Essays 2016. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, an Elizabeth George Foundation grant and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Kenyon Review and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. She lives in Miami Beach, Fla., with her partner, the writer Lars Horn.

On your nightstand now:

I just started Everywhere You Don't Belong, Gabriel Bump's debut novel, which is funny and heartbreaking and poignant, about a young black man from the South Side of Chicago who is learning to navigate what it means to be a black man in the world. Also, Maaza Mengiste's second novel, The Shadow King, an intricate and devastating book. I loved her first book, Beneath the Lion's Gaze, and I went back and re-read that one before picking this one up.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My favorite books (when I was about nine or 10) were Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I read these again and again, obsessively. Later, when I fell in love with horror, it was Stephen King's It. I was fascinated with this idea of kids running around fighting a demon clown who lived in the sewers. And then I discovered Shirley Jackson--The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. She was an evil genius and I adored her.

Your top five authors:

Octavia Butler. Toni Morrison. Sandra Cisneros. Julia Alvarez. Shirley Jackson.

Book you've faked reading:

Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. I had to take a Hemingway class in grad school, and halfway through the course, I gave up. After reading about 20 of his short stories and A Farewell to Arms, I decided I couldn't read another word. I got an A- in the course. Still don't regret it.  

Book you're an evangelist for:

Keith S. Wilson's Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love, which is brilliant. This book is a marvel. Keith is one of my favorite poets. He examines love and race and power and the universe and masculinity and pigeons. Yes. Pigeons. Get this book!

T Kira Madden's Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. This book is heartbreaking and funny and honest. T Kira Madden writes about family and friendship, about grief, about how girls are vulnerable, and manages to do it with grace and generosity.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I first read Hanif Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us on my iPad and loved it. But the book still called out to me whenever I passed it on a shelf. Eventually I picked up a copy at Books & Books and read the whole thing from cover to cover in one sitting. It's even better when you can cradle it in your arms.

Book you hid from your parents:

My diaries.

Book that changed your life:

Hugo Margenat's Obras Completas. This was my father's book. He used to read it to me when I was little. It was the first time I encountered poetry, my first time reading something that felt expansive, important. It made me want to write. Eventually it became mine--I snatched it from him as a kid and never gave it back. I used to stay up late reading it, imagining myself a writer. I still have it on a shelf.

Favorite line from a book:

"When we were twelve we taught ourselves to fly," from John Murrillo's Up Jump the Boogie.

Five books you'll never part with:

Hugo Margenat's Obras Completas, obviously.

Toni Morrison's Beloved, which changed the way I thought about reading and writing and stories and what fiction can do.

John Murillo's Up Jump the Boogie. I'm not a poet, but this book also changed me. In these poems, I found my neighborhood, my friends, our music, our culture, our experiences. These poems changed everything I thought I knew about writing. They made me listen. They made me sing.

Keith S. Wilson's Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love. I already mentioned how much I love this book. Also, pigeons!

In the Shadow of the American Dream: The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz. This book is so beautiful you often forget you're reading Wojnarowicz's diaries. But also, the book was a gift from my partner, Lars, who gave it to me with my engagement ring the morning they proposed.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Books you're most excited to read:

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's forthcoming essay collection
Kristen Arnett's Mostly Dead Things
Carina del Valle Schorske's upcoming essay collection on Puerto Rico
Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House
The World Doesn't Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott
Dominicana by Angie Cruz