Dave Eggers

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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 (who played the youngest son on Eight Is Enough) despite the fact that Rich had not actually died.

By 1997, however, the magazine had folded, and Eggers was finally able to make progress on his memoir, the ironically titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The book told the story of his life with Toph, the rise and fall of Might, Eggers’s attempts to land a spot on MTV network’s reality show The Real World, and Eggers’s struggles to recover from the death of his parents. More important, Eggers showed his allegiance to postmodern culture, as defined by writers like David Foster Wallace, by framing the memoir in various innovative and humorous ways. The copyright page of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius contains a long and satirical digression on whether the work is nonfiction or fiction, a scale rating the author’s sexuality, and an accounting of the true power of Simon and Schuster, the publishers. The acknowledgments section is more than twenty pages long. Throughout the book, Eggers repeatedly steps back from the story being told in the memoir to analyze both the events being related and his methods, motives, and techniques in relating them.

As a result of his work with Might and appearances in other counterculture media like the Web journal Salon.com , Eggers was able to place his book with Simon and Schuster for the reported advance (particularly large for a first-time author)...

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of $100,000. The poignancy of the story, combined with Eggers’s satirical and self-conscious shirking of convention, won excellent reviews from publications includingThe New York Times Book Review, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Time. Both the hardback and paperback editions of the book were listed as The New York Times nonfiction best-sellers, and the paperback eventually climbed to first on the list. Furthermore, The New York Times listed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius as one of the best books of 2000.

Eggers capitalized on the success of his memoir by launching the literary magazine McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (also known as McSweeney’s) before A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius had even seen publication. McSweeney’s is published as a hardbound quarterly journal largely given to printing postmodern and experimental literature; almost immediately, writers with countercultural cachet such as Rick Moody, David Foster Wallace, and George Saunders began publishing in McSweeney’s. Eggers also launched a Web site, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (www.McSweeneys.net), that published even more experimental material.

Eggers’s popularity has resulted in the inevitable backlash; Web sites dedicated to jokes or less than flattering stories about him proliferated. Perhaps surprised by his quick ascension to fame, Eggers has zealously guarded the privacy he has left, only giving interviews via e-mail and publicly trading insults with reporters. His status continues to grow, aided in part by his actions at readings and benefits. At one reading, Eggers collected a group of listeners onto a bus and conveyed them to a pool hall for the evening. At a cancer benefit in Denver, Eggers shocked the audience by making a pledge of $100,000 to the Webb-Waring Institute for Cancer, Aging, and Antioxidant Research. He sold the film rights for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to New Line Pictures in 2001 for a reported two million dollars and has used the money to further his publishing interests. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his brother Toph.


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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.