Dave Eggers Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

David (Dave) Eggers became a household name after the enormous success of his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Before long, he parlayed his popularity (and royalties) into starting a literary press that produced a quarterly magazine (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern) as well as hardback literary books, often of the experimental variety (McSweeney’s Books).

The third of four children, Eggers was born in 1970 in Boston and raised by his parents in the prestigious Lake Forest suburb of Chicago. Eggers’s father was an attorney and his mother a teacher. While attending college at the University of Illinois in 1991, twenty-one-year-old Eggers learned that his mother was dying of stomach cancer, and after returning home for winter break he stayed to help care for her. As detailed in Eggers’s memoir, the decline of his mother was slow and painful, and the tension caused by her suffering affected the entire family. While steeling themselves for their mother’s death, however, the Eggers siblings were shocked by the sudden death of their father in November, 1991, from lung cancer. Less than two months later, Eggers’s mother had also passed away, and the siblings—twenty-four-year-old Bill, twenty-three-year-old Beth, and Eggers—were faced with the question of raising their brother Toph (short for Christopher), who was about to turn eight years old.

Before long, it was decided that Beth would return to Berkeley, California, to attend law school, and that Eggers and Toph would live in San Francisco. Bill would soon move to California as well. Not surprisingly for a young man of college age, Eggers had a hard time adjusting to a life centered upon raising an eight-year-old. In addition to the new responsibilities this brought, he used a sizable portion of his inheritance to help found Might magazine in 1994 with his Lake Forest friends David Moodie and Marny Requa, who had also moved to San Francisco. Might published only sixteen issues and never exceeded a circulation of thirty thousand, but it garnered a cult following and a reputation for wit, savvy media satire, and irreverence. Might gained national notoriety when it printed a eulogy for former child television star Adam Rich...

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Dave Eggers was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970 and spent most of his youth in the upscale neighborhood of Lake Forest, a suburban community that hugs Lake Michigan just north of Chicago. Later, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

When Eggers was twenty-one, he experienced a life-changing event. Both his parents, diagnosed with cancer, died within a few weeks of one another. This event and its consequences are the major theme that runs through Eggers’s memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. After his parents’ deaths, Eggers and his siblings (named Bill, Beth, and Christopher, or “Toph”) sold most of everything their parents owned and then moved to California, seeking a new environment in which to start their lives over.

Eggers took on the role of parent in raising his young brother Toph. His challenges in this regard are also extensively explored in his memoir. Being in his early twenties, Eggers knew little about nurturing and guiding a child. His oldest brother is somewhat removed, living in Southern California. His sister Beth, who lives not too far from Eggers’s house in Berkeley, is deeply engrossed in completing her law degree, so she is unable to offer much support. The two brothers, Dave and Toph, develop their own child-rearing manual, which is anything but conventional.

Eggers takes on several different professional positions as he hones his skills in journalism and publishing. He starts out working for Salon.com as an editor. Then he becomes one of the founding editors of a generation X magazine, Might, which garners a lot of attention but not much financial support. He takes an editing job with Esquire but happily quits when his memoir is published. Later, he starts a publishing business called McSweeney’s. He also starts a literacy nonprofit organization for young students called 826 Valencia, in San Francisco. Through this organization, he and his fellow teachers tutor local kids in writing. Since 2002, Eggers has expanded the 826 Valencia to other major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Ann Arbor. In 2007, Eggers won the Heinz Award for his achievements.

Other books Eggers has written include the novel You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), the short story collection How We Are Hungry (2004), and the novel What Is the What (2006). He is working on a novel inspired by Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (to be released in 2009).

Eggers is married to writer Vendela Vida. The couple has one daughter.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Blevins, Jason. “Author’s Pledge Staggers Crowd.” Denver Post, September 14, 2000. Newspaper account of Eggers’s pledge of $100,000 to cancer research.

Eggers, Dave. “Is Dave Eggers for Real?” Interview by Stephanie Merrit. The Observer, May 14, 2000. Interview with Eggers that focuses on his need for privacy in the midst of his newfound fame.

Kakutani, Michiko. “A Heartbreaking Work . . . : Clever Young Man Raises Sweet Little Brother.” The New York Times, February 1, 2000, p. E-8. In-depth review of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Mosle, Sara. “My Brother’s Keeper.” The New York Times Book Review, February 20, 2000, sec. 7, p. 6. Review of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius that focuses on Eggers’s biography.