This is from today’s Writer’s Almanac:
It’s the birthday of the writer and editor Dave Eggers, (books by this author) born in Boston (1970). He grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, a city that was famous when he was growing up for having been the setting for the movie Ordinary People. He originally wanted to be a cartoonist, but when he was in high school, he worked on a project where he had to write and illustrate his own book. He found that he loved all aspects of the process, from writing to designing the layout of the book. He went on to study art and journalism at the University of Illinois, and it was while he was in college that his mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Then, just after his mother went through severe stomach surgery, his father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Six months later, both of his parents were dead. Eggers was just 21 years old.
Of the experience of losing both of his parents so suddenly, Eggers later said, “On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There’s a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started.”
Eggers had to drop out of college to become the guardian of his 15-year-old younger brother. They moved to San Francisco, and Eggers used the insurance money from his parents’ deaths to start his own magazine with some high school friends. They called it Might Magazine. It only lasted for 16 issues. But Eggers went on to start a new literary journal called Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. He wanted to experiment with graphic design and printing techniques, so he changed the format of the journal for every issue. One issue consisted of 14 individually bound pamphlets. Another issue included a music CD with a different piece of music composed specifically to accompany each piece in the journal.
All the while that he was starting up these magazines, Dave Eggers was staying up late at night trying to write a book about the death of his parents and the effect that it had on his life. That book grew into his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which became a big best-seller in 2000.
Eggers has gone on to write a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry (2004), and two novels: You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002) and What Is the What (2006). He also founded a writing center for young people in San Francisco called 826 Valencia, which has grown into a national organization designed to help and encourage young people to write.