Junot Diaz won the 2008 Pulitzer for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but what fans didn't know at the time was that his personal life was going off the rails—all because of something that happened to him as a child. In a New Yorker essay, the 49-year-old writes for the first time about the jarring truth: "I was raped when I was 8 years old. By a grownup that I truly trusted. 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." At that point, his world quickly began to fall apart in cycles of depression and rage. Diaz reveals something else for the first time: He tried to kill himself as a teenager by taking three bottles' worth of his brother's leftover cancer drugs. "Didn't work."
The author writes that he didn't try again the next day because, by chance, he got an acceptance letter from Rutgers in the mail. College proved to be a lifeline, but a limited one. Diaz recounts first an inability to be intimate with women, and then, as he grew older, the opposite: He became a serial cheater and destroyed relationship after relationship. Diaz details another ascent to "rock bottom," one fueled by alcohol and suicidal thoughts, before finally pulling himself out in recent years—and being able to tell those close to him about his rape. "I'm in therapy twice a week," he writes. "I don't drink (except in Japan, where I let myself have a beer). I don't hurt people with my lies or my choices, and wherever I can I make amends; I take responsibility. I've come to learn that repair is never-ceasing." Click to read his full essay. (Read more Junot Diaz stories.)