The Uncloistered Dave Eggers: An Interview

| Online Exclusive: November-December 2008

  • Dave Eggers

    image by David Shankbone, licensed under GNU

  • Dave Eggers

After the runaway success of his Pulitzer-nominated memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, literary wunderkind Dave Eggers could have settled into a comfortable career cranking out similarly self-referential fare, holding court at book signings and authors’ roundtables, perhaps doling out a few graduation speeches every spring.

Instead he took a more dynamic path. He founded the small indie publishing empire McSweeney’s, which produces the Believer magazine, and started two nonprofit enterprises with a humanitarian bent: 826 Valencia, a writing and tutoring laboratory for young people ages 6 to 18, now located in seven cities, and Voice of Witness, a series of books that use oral history to tell the stories of the abused, oppressed, and impoverished. Eggers himself provided the template with What Is the What (McSweeney’s, 2006), his gripping fictionalization of Sudanese “lost boy” Valentino Achak Deng’s story.

Eggers took the time to answer a few questions in this exclusive Utne Reader interview after the magazine chose him as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” in its Nov.-Dec. issue.


What do you get out of the experience of working with kids at the 826 Valencia centers—and what do you think the kids get out of it?

“I teach a weekly class for high schoolers—the same class I’ve taught for six years now. Eighteen high schoolers meet every week to compile The Best American Nonrequired Reading. It’s two hours of free-ranging discussion of whatever we’re reading from magazines, journals, the Web. I love working with high schoolers because their brains are at such a point of change and openness—they’re so insanely curious and passionate and haven’t made up their minds on everything just yet.

Arlan Berglas
12/18/2008 8:48:17 AM

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