Junot Díaz was born in 1968 in a neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was the third child in a family of five. Throughout most of his early childhood, he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father worked in the United States. In 1974, Díaz was re-united with his father in New Jersey. There he lived less than a mile from what he has described as "one of the largest landfills in New Jersey".
He was a voracious reader during his elementary years, often walking four miles in order to borrow books from his public library. At this time, Díaz became fascinated with apocalyptic films and books. He graduated in 1992, majoring in English. In college he was involved in Demarest Hall, a creative-writing, living-learning, residence hall, and in various student organizations. He was exposed to the authors who would motivate him to become a writer: Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros. He worked his way through college by delivering pool tables, washing dishes, pumping gas, and working at Raritan River Steel. Reflecting on his experience growing up in America and working his way through college in 2010, Diaz said: "I can safely say I've seen the US from the bottom up… I may be a success story as an individual. But if you adjust the knob and just take it back one setting to the family unit, I would say my family tells a much more complicated story. It tells the story of two kids in prison. It tells the story of enormous poverty, of tremendous difficulty."
On 2010, it was announced that Diaz had been selected to sit on the 20-member Pulitzer Prize board of jurors. Diaz described his appointment, and the fact that he is the first Latino to be appointed to the panel, as an "extraordinary honor".
Currently, Díaz teaches creative writing at MIT and is also the fiction editor for the Boston Review. He is active in the Dominican American community and is a founding member of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Writing Workshop, which focuses on writers of color.
In addition to the Pulitzer in 2008, The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao has been awarded many prizes and distinctions. "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao... the saga of an immigrant family, but that wouldn't really be fair. It's an immigrant-family saga for people who don't read immigrant-family sagas." (Time)