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Immigrants Of The Day: Junot Diaz of Dominican Republic, Joseph Pulitzer of Hungary, and Enrico Fermi of Italy

by Kevin R. Johnson

Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic)

250pxjunot_dc3adaz Citizen Orange suggested that Junot Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, be the Immigrant of the Day (if  not the year). We agree.

Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1968, Junot Díaz moved to the United States at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz's work is the duality of the immigrant experience.  In New Jersey in 1974, Diaz was re-united with his father who had been working in the United States.

Díaz completed his BA at Rutgers in 1992, majoring in English.  He worked his way through college by delivering pool tables, washing dishes, pumping gas and working at Raritan River Steel. After graduating from Rutgers, he was employed at Rutgers University Press as an editorial assistant. He earned his MFA from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995.

Diaz is best known for his two major works: the short story collection Drown (1996) and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), which earned him the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The stories in Drown focus on the teenage narrator's impoverished, fatherless youth in the Dominican Republic and his struggle adapting to his new life in New Jersey.  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar 51heqloy1rl__sl500_bo2204203200_pis Wao plays on similar themes.

Díaz is active in the Dominican community and teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is also the fiction editor for the Boston Review. He is a founding member of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Writing Workshop, a writing workshop focused on writers of color.

The New Yorker magazine listed Junot Diaz as one of the 20 top writers for the 21st century.

Diaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

June 20, 2008 | Permalink

Joseph Pulitzer (Hungary)

180pxpulitzer Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) was a publisher best known for posthumously establishing the Pulitzer Prizes.

Pulitzer was born in Makó, Hungary He immigrated to the United States in 1864 to serve in the American Civil War.  After the war he settled in St. Louis, Missouri, he studied law and was admitted to practice in Missouri.

In 1868, Pulitizer, began working for a German language daily newspaper, the Westliche Post. Pulitzer purchased the Post for $3,000, and then sold his stake in the paper for a profit in 1873. Then, in 1879, he bought the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post and merged the two papers, which became the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was at the Post-Dispatch that Pulitzer developed his role as a champion of the common man with exposés and a hard-hitting populist approach.

In 1882 Pulitzer purchased the New York World. Pulitzer shifted its focus to human-interest stories, scandal, and sensationalism.  Under Pulitzer's leadership, the circulation of the New York World grew from 15,000 to 600,000, making it the largest newspaper in the country.

In 1885, Pulitzer was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but resigned after a few months' service.

Pulitzer left Columbia University, $2 million in his will, which led to the creation in 1912 of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism remains one of the most prestigious in the world. 

June 23, 2008 | Permalink

Enrico Fermi (Italy)

225pxenrico_fermi_194349 Enrico Fermi (1901–54) was a physicist, born in Rome, Italy, most noted for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics.

Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938 for his work on induced radioactivity and is today regarded as one of the top scientists of the 20th century.  Fermium, a synthetic element created in 1952 is named after him.

After Fermi received the Nobel Prize in Stockholm, he and his family immigrated to New York. This was mainly because of the anti-Semitic laws promulgated by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini which threatened his wife, who was Jewish. The new laws also put most of Fermi's research assistants out of work. Soon after his arrival in New York, Fermi began working at Columbia University.

June 24, 2008 | Permalink

These posts were orginally posted on the ImmigrationProf Blog here, here and here.

About The Author

Kevin R. Johnson is currently Dean, Professor of Law and Chicana/o Studies, and the Mabie-Apallas Public Interest Law Chair holder at the University of California at Davis. He is also one of the editors of ImmigrationProf Blog .

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.