Mary Nelen: Author helps lead fight against society’s ‘rapiarchy’
AMHERST — A few weeks ago to a packed house, he might have as well been saying, “I’m talking to you, western Massachsetts!” Best-selling author Junot Diaz spoke at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as part of a national book tour. At Bowker Auditorium, he blew the doors off the place. “This is How You Lose Her,” is Diaz’s third novel.
The Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur “genius” award winner strode across the stage in jeans and a Puma pullover. Diaz, who also teaches literature at MIT, gave a shout out to the students, to the writers, to the blacks, to the Dominicans, to the Latinos and the Latinas, then pulled out a white iPhone to check the time. He held it up to the audience and said, “OK, people, we have one hour. OK? I am going to read from the book, and then we’ll do a little Q&A and then read some more. Are we good?” he asked.
Diaz kicked with a profanity-fueled example of erudition and street language in a 90-minute tour of what it’s like to be an immigrant Dominican male growing up poor in Jersey without a dad and without much money and then about his work and how the guy in the book eventually develops an ethical imagination — as in learning to see women as human beings.
He also talked about writing. “It’s hard, man,” he said. “Don’t do it unless you absolutely have to.”
He spoke of politics. “Do those dudes really, really think there is no global warming? My city is underwater, man.”
And then he spoke of rapiarchy.
“It’s out there you know, man,” he said. “My own 12-year-old sister, man, was hit on constantly,” he said, “By guys of all ages, even 40-year-old dudes.”
What saved her, he explained, was her family. “We just huddled around her like a force field.”
The word rapiarchy is is not in the dictionary or Wikipedia but Diaz used it Nov. 1, it was the right word to use.
It was all over campus and in the news that classes at Amherst College were to be cancelled for the next day. Every student in the auditorium knew of the letter accusing Amherst College of mishandling a rape incident, the reason for President Caroline Martin’s decision to devote the day to forums and presentations on rape issues.
The alleged gang rape of a UMass Amherst student from Pittsfield was common knowledge to students as well as anyone who picked up a paper that week.
“Rapiarchy” may not be an official word, but in the Valley it’s an official problem. UMass Amherst and the rest of the schools in western Massachusetts can learn from President Martin’s quick response.
The Diaz presentation was open to the public. He was talking to us.
Mary A. Nelen is a writer who lives in Easthampton.