Daily Archives: March 19, 2010

Paean to a literary hero

The inspiration behind this post is a gentleman of about sixty, who, when checking out a book by graphic memoirist Jeffrey Brown at the Circulation Desk told me, “This guy tells it like it is. Life is like this – he’s my hero.”

I informed the patron that I too was a fan of Brown’s new work and he was beyond delighted. As he left, his words struck me. A hero? I suppose a hero can take many forms. I have a hero too: Dave Eggers.

Eggers is very popular and is often regarded as a critical darling. For these reasons I snobbishly struggle with liking him as much as I do. But I can’t argue with his body of work.  Memoir, short stories, a novelization of a true story, a major motion picture screenplay and creative nonfiction – Eggers’ refusal to remain static is reason enough to inspire. As an avid reader, I appreciate an author who isn’t giving me the same book in different packaging every time ( I’m looking at you, Palahniuk). And as a casual scrawler, well, let’s just say Eggers gives you reason to hone your craft – it isn’t easy being a writer and the good ones should remind you of that.

Because Eggers is much more than a writer, he is heroic. Look at his trophy case – National Book Foundation, The Heinz Awards, and a TED Grant are noteworthy accolades, but especially so when not given for his work in literature. Instead, it’s as a philanthropist that Eggers has thrived and won my starry gaze. In the work of 826 Valencia, a writing center for students ages 6 to 18 – with chapters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Ann Arbor, and Boston – for starters. In publications like McSweeney’s, The Believer, and Wholphin that he had a part in founding. In the Best American Nonrequired Reading series he edits with high schoolers in the San Francisco area. I’ve had trouble finding whether the man even collects a profit. Just as an example of his generosity, What is the What aided refugees from Sudan, the construction of a schoolhouse, and the “Lost Boys” (the subject matter of the book) themselves.  Zeitoun benefits go to Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. This collection goes entirely to Valencia. Book tours and other profits fund cancer research, literacy programs, or another noteworthy cause.

Authors shouldn’t remind you of Rich Uncle Pennybags – and instead should put their money, and their words, where they count the most. It’s heroic.



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