In a lecture that was peppered with profanities, young Dominican-American novelist Junot Diaz discussed literature and activism with a roomful of students at New Jersey City University on Tuesday, Feb 29. Diaz is the author of Drown, a critically-acclaimed 1996 collection of short stories set in both Santo Domingo, where the writer spent much of his childhood, and the working-class barrios of central New Jersey, where his family eventually emigrated. Narrated by young Latino men, his stories are realistic portraits of urban existence. In "Fiesta, 1980," he writes, "Tia came out, with an apron on and maybe the longest Lee Press-On Nails I've ever seen in my life. There was this one guru motherf----er in the Guiness Book of World Records who had longer nails, but I tell you, it was close." While students responded easily to his guileless prose, from an academic standpoint, his use of nonstandard vernacular fits into the literary tradition established by classic writers like Mark Twain and Zora Neale Hurston. "The students are not used to seeing literature written by people of their background," said David Blackmore, a NJCU assistant professor of English, after Diaz' appearance last week. "So we try to bring in writers who come from similar backgrounds. I've taught some of Diaz's stories in a number of classes and the students really respond to them. Students tend to be more enthusiastic about studying this kind of literature. And work like this is great to get students thinking critically." Diaz, who is in his early 30s, graduated from Rutgers University and received an MFA from Cornell University's writing program, but didn't move directly into a writing job. He was doing office work in Manhattan when he received a call from a literary magazine editor saying she was accepting one of his stories. This led to the publication of his book and to his receiving several prestigious fellowships. Wearing a green hooded sweatshirt and black jeans, Diaz could have passed for a student himself. Like his literature, his lecture was an amalgam of both erudition and colloquialism. "I try to critique male privilege and misogyny found in everyday patriarchal Dominican society," Diaz told more than 100 alert undergraduates. "It's ugly to talk about what happens in relationships and some of my characters may seem like negative stereotypes, but I'm willing to be a negative stereotype to talk about sh-- that no one else is dealing with." When the lecture was over, dozens of students lingered, waiting to have a word with the man who had inspired them. "His reading was so enlightening," said Wilfredo Lagares, a junior studying media and photography. "It hit really close to home. I've read other writers that write on an ethnic level, but [Diaz] changed it. He made it more real, and that impacts how I view my own history. It was really refreshing." Kendell Wright, a senior studying English, also responded positively to the reading. "[Diaz] uses a lot of profanity in his stories," he said. "But it's good because it makes the stories seem much more real. In person he also seems real. Most people worry about how they come across, and they try to speak clean and smart. But he doesn't seem to worry. He seems very down-to-earth." The president of the student government, Michele Figueroa, also attended the event. "I see Diaz as the male perspective of Toni Morrison or Alice Walker," said Figueroa. "We need more men of color to identify with women." With commensurate respect, Diaz said he values his time with the students. "It's important to reach out to young people - and young people of color - who don't get to run into someone like me who will speak to them from the heart," said Diaz. "But it's an exchange. Young people challenge me as an artist and I learn from them. It's a dialogue and I take it seriously. They respond to honesty with honesty."