Instructors’ Teaching Experience

I have had a lot of success with this novel, but it takes some prep work with students. I spend quite a bit of time talking to students about the style of the book, the language, and how it will feel a bit overwhelming to them. This helps ease them into the text (even though I encourage them to just “dive in” and be overwhelmed because that is the point). Many of my students end up LOVING this book. Others never quite get on board or have major issues with the explicit language. Overall, however, this book has so much in it that the hardest part is limiting discussion. I’ve used this text in courses with the theme of “identity” as well as “place.” Possible topics: masculinity, post-colonialism, racism, sexism, cultural memory, family dynamics, power of narrative and voice, narrative voice (unreliable narrator), power of “place” and locale, fantasy, literary tradition (the book is FULL of allusions). [Stephanie Grossnickle-Batterton,]

Classroom Strategies


Before reading, I have students read a New York Times review of the book (“Dreaming in Spanglish”) and then have them do some informal internet research on Diaz as well as the history of the Dominican Republic, which they share with the class. I also do an intro powerpoint that includes very basic info on the book/Diaz, as well as relevent terms we’ll use in class (such as liminality, diaspora, etc.). It is here: FileBrief Wondrous Intro (PP). [Stephanie Grossnickle-Batterton,]

Reading Log & Allusions

I have students keep a reading log during the book. For each section, they write a brief summary of that section, an important quote, and an allusion which they research. Because the book is full of allusions, I tell them to choose one that most interests them per reading session and become an “expert” on that one. I model this in class on the first day and then let students run with it. Students get to explore something that interests them and don’t feel quite as overwhelmed with having to figure out every single allusion. Reading log is here: FileA Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao LOG.[Stephanie Grossnickle-Batterton,]

Interviews with Diaz

Throughout the book, I use interviews with Diaz on a wide variety of subjects related to the book. At the beginning, I use the Stephen Colbert interview when I introduce the book. Then, I use clips such as this one, where Diaz is talking about his male and female characters to discuss issues of gender in the text. There are a bunch of interviews with Diaz available on YouTube, so I would suggest taking some time to explore them and figure out which work best for your particular focus/class. [Stephanie Grossnickle-Batterton,]

Critical Theories

I have introduced critical theories around the time I teach this novel and have then used excerpts of critical articles for students to consider in groups. Here are a few excerpts I've found that get students talking: FileBrief Wondrous CRITICISMFile Brief Wondrous Man Without a Face - Crit Excerpts[Stephanie Grossnickle-Batterton,]

Twilight Zone Episode

Diaz uses an allusion to a famous Twilight Zone episode ("It's a Good Life") in discussing the terror of Trujillo. I usually show the last part of the episode and we discuss how/why/if Diaz’s allusion works so well, particularly what about Trujillo he is trying to highlight through the allusion. [Stephanie Grossnickle-Batterton,]

Additional Resources

Three Quizzes for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao:

A reader response assignment on social media and Oscar Wao:

A PowerPoint about magical realism in Oscar Wao: