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Mexico Literature - Oct 2008
Credit: Juan Cedillo/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

In a searing essay published by The New Yorker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz has revealed he was raped at 8 years old, and described the lifetime of trauma that’s followed him.

“I was raped when I was 8 years old. By a grownup that I truly trusted,” he writes. “After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be ‘in trouble.’ And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again. I never told anyone what happened, but today I’m telling you. And anyone else who cares to listen.”

The essay explores Díaz’s lifetime of vying to overcome the traumatic experience, describing failed suicide attempts and harrowing nightmares. “It f—ed up my childhood. It f—ed up my adolescence. It f—ed up my whole life,” he says. “More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me.”

Díaz, best known for his short story collection This Is How You Lose Her and his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has consistently explored sexual abuse in his work but writes in the essay that the shame of his own experience prevented him from previously coming forward about it. The essay is addressed to a person (referred to as X) who, at a book signing, recently asked him if he experienced abuse in his childhood; Díaz writes, before unpacking the details of what happened, “Yes, it happened to me.”

“The kid before — hard to remember,” Díaz continues in the piece. “Trauma is a time traveller, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before. Only fragments remain.”

Díaz later notes that he hit a low point in adulthood before beginning a long, painful healing process through therapy. “In Spanish we say that when a child is born it is given the light,” the Dominican-American author explains. “And that’s what it feels like to say the words, X⁠. Like I’m being given a second chance at the light.”

Díaz recently wrapped the tour for his new children’s book Islandborn, which has earned rave reviews. You can read his interview with EW about the book here.

Read Díaz’s full New Yorker essay here.