Born 1970, in Boston, MA. Education: Attended University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (journalism and painting).
Office—c/o McSweeney's, 826 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110.
Journalist and editor. Might (magazine), founder and editor, 1994-97; Salon.com San Francisco, CA, editor of "Media Circus" section, c. mid-1990s; Esquire, New York, NY, editor-at-large, 1997; editor of McSweeney's (quarterly journal and Web site), 1997—. Consultant for ESPN. Has appeared on various radio and television shows, including This American Life, for National Public Radio, and The Real World, for Music Television.
(And editor, with others) For the Love of Cheese: The Editors of Might Magazine, Boulevard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (memoir), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
You Shall Know Our Velocity, McSweeney's, 2002.
(Editor with Michael Cart) The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2002, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Contributor to numerous periodicals.
Dave Eggers' first splash in publishing was a big one: the audaciously titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Published in 2000, the book caught the attention of the media, and soon critical praise was being heaped upon the book's author, an unknown twenty-nine-year old journalist from Massachusetts. Eggers, who had previously founded and edited the lampoonish Might, took the same approach in his book, in the process taking stabs at the inflated egos of many who tackle their own life story with the assumption that other will care to read it. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius recalls the author's experiences growing up: how he raised his younger brother after both the boys' parents died of cancer. Describing his life as "so strange that it was inevitable that somebody would tell it," Eggers explained to Harper's Bazaar interviewer Melanie Rehak: "It started with the dying part and then it just kept going."
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1970, Eggers and his family—his father was an attorney and his mother taught school—moved to the upscale suburb of Lake Forest, near Chicago, when he was a child. Growing up one of four children in an upper middle-class family where his parents took their home life seriously, life was pretty typical for the period, although Eggers did recall that his father was burdened by a drinking problem, perhaps due to his high-pressure job.
Family Falls Apart
After high school, Eggers enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, expecting to get a degree in journalism while also taking courses in painting. While he was away at school, life at the Eggers home fell into disarray when his mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Although surgery was successful and despite chemotherapy treatments the cancer returned a year later, forcing her doctors to perform more radical surgery. Meanwhile, Eggers' father was also diagnosed with cancer, although unlike Eggers' mother, his father's cancer occurred in the brain and lung. In 1991, in just over a month, the Egger children lost both their father and mother.
As the second youngest sibling, twenty-one-yearold Eggers determined that he should be the one to stay home with the youngest brother, eight-year-old Toph. The oldest brother had a full-time job with the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, while his older sister was enrolled in the University of California Law School, and neither had much flexibility as far as their work or study schedules went. Eggers left school and, with his girlfriend Kirsten and Toph in tow, moved out to Berkeley, California, where they moved in with Egger's sister and her sister's roommate. Eventually the stress of everyone living in such close quarters began to take its toll; because they were left financially well off at their parents' death, Egger and company decided to find an affordable place to live in another part of town to give everyone some space. Toph was fortunate to get a full scholarship at a small private school, and his older brother put his journalism training to use by doing temporary work and freelance graphic design for a local newspaper.
In the Berkeley area Eggers hooked up with David Moodie, a high-school buddy who had also moved to the West coast and who was also interested in journalism. Seeing a good opportunity to moonlight, the two young men took over the helm of a local arts newspaper titled Cups, which was distributed free of charge at area restaurants and coffee shops. While they jumped into their new career excited about the creative potential of running their own publication, Moodie and Eggers quickly realized that publishing took an incredible amount of time, certainly more than they could afford while working full-time at another job. However, the excitement of publishing prompted them to come up with a better idea, one that they could actually afford to do. Together with a third friend from their high school, Eggers and Moodie decided to start the magazine Might in early 1994.
Might Attracts Loyal Following
In the tradition of such magazines as Mad and National Lampoon, the fledgling Might took aim squarely at the mainstream media, which gave Eggers, Moody, and company ample room for satire. From cover to cover, the magazine poked fun at all the time-honored traditions of conventional print journalism, with articles titled "Are Black People Cooler than White People?" and "The Future: Is It Coming?" Not just the articles, but the entire format of the magazine, from the table of contents to the editorial comments, footnotes, advertisements, and small-print retractions, were barbed. "On page 111, in our 'Religious News Round-up,' we reported that Jesus Christ was a deranged, filthy protohippy" read one retraction from the Might editorial staff, boxed and typeset in mock seriousness. "In fact, Jesus Christ was the son of God. We regret the error."
Perhaps illustrating the tendency of the U.S. media to feed off of one another in their search for titillating stories better than an article ever could was the news that the magazine itself created in one of its most audacious satires. In a cover story—complete with blurry photographs and lurid headlines, Might broke the "news" about the alleged murder of Adam Rich, a man who had become famous as a child due to his starring role on the popular 1980s television sitcom Eight Is Enough. Might's editors obtained Rich's permission to perpetrate a hoax on their readers as a way of showing how journalists feed on human tragedy in order to attract readers—and hence advertisers. When Might hit newsstands, the cover story caught the eye of a writer at the National Enquirer, who wanted all the details for that tabloid publication. Even Hard Copy, a prime-time television "magazine," called up Might's editors to get more information on the "murder."
As the creators of Might, the buzz about the tiny independent magazine soon directed serious attention toward Eggers as a talented writer. Soon paying assignments from mainstream magazines like Details and New York, as well as trade publications like Microsoft Corporation's Mint, were coming Eggers' way. Eggers had also teamed with Moodie to run a graphics studio, and by now was editing Salon.com's online "Media Circus" section. While Might was drawing reader interest and media respect, it was not proving financially sound, and despite their search the three editors were unable to find someone interested in bankrolling the magazine's publishing costs. After three years of operation, in 1997 Might folded.
Eggers took a job with Esquire as an editor-at-large, and he and his brother relocated to New York City. However, after the independence of running his own magazine, working for Esquire was frustrating, and Eggers left the magazine in 1998 with plans for launching a new magazine. Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, together with its online companion, Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency, is a humor magazine that got its name from a mentally impaired man who claimed to be a relative of Eggers'. Published four times a year, McSweeney's, as the magazine has become known, is modeled on nineteenth-century periodicals, complete with line drawings, a mannered prose, and a self-important air. It accepts submissions that are "too esoteric, untimely or otherwise uncommercial" to run in mainstream magazines, according to James Poniewozik in Time. As Eggers explained in an interview posted on the McSweeney's Web Site, "Early on, we might have been more inclined to publish something experimental though unsuccessful over something traditional but well-executed. We valued the experiment above all, really, and were a little form-obsessed. But now we're more balanced, I would say. But it's always changing." Within a few years Eggers and Toph moved back to California, where McSweeney's main office was established; the magazine also maintained a satellite office in New York City.
Publishes Rule-breaking Autobiography
In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Eggers continued to do what he does best: break with tradition. Focusing on his personal life, his experiences raising his younger brother, and his development as a writer, the book begins with over twenty pages of acknowledgments, written in a stream-ofconsciousness outpouring that also serves as a guide to the book that follows—for example, Eggers suggests in his introduction: "Actually, you might want to skip much of the middle, namely pages 209-301." A cash-flow analysis, a budget detailing how the author spent his earnings from the book, and a sketch of a stapler also make their appearance in this section. The body of the book is composed of two interwoven texts: one is Eggers' narrative of his life events, while the other includes self-conscious ruminations on those same events. In this way readers become aware of the author's recognition of his brother's future as his responsibility, and his concern over whether he has what it takes to do the job. His romantic relationships, the loss of his parents, and his conflicts over his potential status as a celebrity also provoke these introspective musings.
Upon its publication, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius immediately captured the attention of many mainstream media critics. Many noted the honesty of the work. Daniel Handler, in a review for the Voice Literary Supplement, wrote that, whether Eggers is "discussing early Might meetings or parent-teacher conferences, he invariable finds a perfect tone, and zeroes in on the triple paradox of . . . slacker days: you want to do something, preferably the right thing, but are paralyzed by self-awareness; despite self-awareness you do something anyway." Handler commented that Eggers "may end up becoming something he richly deserves and probably does not aspire to be: the voice of a generation." Dubbing the work "a heart-wrenching yet often very funny memoir," Mark Horowitz praised Eggers' candid explication of his own motives and actions in a review for New York, noting that in his book the author "lays everything out in exquisite, excruciating detail." Sara Mosle praised the humor in Eggers' revealing autobiography, writinginher New York Times Book Review piece that A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a work "of finite jest," and a book that "goes a surprisingly long way toward delivering on its self-satirizing, hyperbolic title." James Poniewozik praised the bravery underlying the book, explaining in his Time review that in Eggers' writing "literary gamesmanship and self-consciousness are trained on life's most unendurable experience" and "used to examine memory too scorching to stare at, as one views an eclipse by projecting sunlight onto paper through a pinhole."
A Conduit to the Community
In true media fashion, as hype over Eggers' idiosyncratic work spread, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius hit the best-seller charts running. Time did a write-up on him, the New Yorker ran excerpts, and the New York Times issued a glowing review. Even motion picture possibilities were presented, when New Line Pictures offered Eggers a $2 million advance for rights to adapt the book for film. Needless to say, Eggers declined New Line's offer, cringed at the onslaught of media attention, and fought to keep his family out of the glare of media attention. While some authors would enjoy basking in the fame thrown Eggers' way, he again proved himself cut from different cloth. While he did benefit from his renown, it was in the ability to perform work as a professional journalist. Time magazine and Forbes ASAP both commissioned him to write articles, and he was also hired as a consultant and contributor to ESPN magazine.
Eggers funneled much of the profits from his first book into an organization called 826 Valencia, located in the West Coast McSweeney's offices in San Francisco's Mission Hill district. 826 Valencia was established as a way to help young people in the San Francisco area develop their writing skills, Eggers believing that developing skills in written English and comprehension, particularly among students of other language backgrounds, is invaluable to leading a creative life. The school, which hosts workshops, classes, storytelling sessions, and other teaching-related activities, also makes itself available as an aid to area teachers, and employs a dedicated staff of volunteer teachers and writing mentors.
In 2002 Eggers published his second book, titled You Shall Know Our Velocity. The novel follows the story of two young men, Will and Hand, who travel around the world, trying to spend all of the money they have unexpectedly earned. "The money," Adam Mars-Jones explained in his review for the London Observer, "came Will's way more or less by accident (his silhouette was used to market light bulbs) and he regards it as a burden." "But really," Kyle Minor wrote in Antioch Review, "the plot is an excuse to do a character study of two Midwestern boys who are trying to deal with the death of a friend." Their travels are filled with whimsical yet dangerous adventures, like driving a car with only their tongues on the steering wheel, as they go about distributing their money in random fashion. Mars-Jones admitted that the novel might be "a bleak and uneasy satire on American ignorance and cultural consumerism." Blake Morrison suggested another interpretation in his London Guardian review, arguing that the "naivety, vagueness about geography and hubristic dream of liberating nonwesterners from poverty and oppression can be read as a satire on current US foreign policy."
Although You Shall Know Our Velocity received a great deal of critical attention, critics were less impressed with the novel's construction in the wake of their excitement with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Max Watman, writing in the New Criterion, noted that "Eggers has talent, and that at which he is good is superlative. He can write wonderful sentences. . . . He can sling strong similes. . . . He writes good athletic action. . . . But Eggers lacks scope. He cannot write women." And Troy Patterson concluded in Entertainment Weekly that "You Shall Know Our Velocity is nobody's masterpiece and falls short of its predecessor, but Eggers is so attuned to the logic of bereavement and the plain glory of life that his novel deserves something larger than a coterie audience."
Life Continues to Unfold
Publishing a definitive autobiography at the young age of thirty was, not surprisingly, a bit premature, particularly for an individual as engaged in his family, community, and profession as Eggers. Despite further family setbacks—Eggers' older sister died just after Toph's graduation from high school, and his younger brother's entrance into college added new financial pressures to the editor/novelist/publisher. Fortunately, McSweeney's continued to draw praise and subscribers, and also provided Eggers with a conduit for his ideas, concerns, and frustrations, as well as personal support as letters from readers continued to flood in via the Internet. "There were a lot of times over the last couple years when these letters, from people I might never meet, really gave us strength," Eggers explained in his McSweeney's interview. "A lot of people, total strangers, wrote extremely kind notes after my sister died. . . , and that meant a lot to us. It was such a hard year. There are times when my brothers and I just look around and can't believe there's only three of us left. You really can't do the math, or you'd lose your mind."
If you enjoy the works of Dave Eggers
If you enjoy the works of Dave Eggers, you might want to check out the following books:
Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated, 2002.
David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day, 2000.
Edward Lewis Wallant, The Tenants of Moonbloom, 1963.
Nick Hornby in the London Observer summed up Eggers: "Journalists get snippy about him, especially in the US: he's young, his first book was a No. 1 bestseller, and he plays his own games, not the ones the media want him to play. They're good games, too. I think what he's doing in publishing is important and is already very influential. You can hear a McSweeney's echo in all sorts of books and magazines, on both sides of the Atlantic, already." On the Pop Matters Web Site, Mitch Pugh described the journalist as, "to put it simply, is just too cool for me. He's hip and he's young and he's talented and he makes both envy-inducing . . . decisions and bone-headed, sophomoric, hey-look-at-me-Mano-hands decisions that make me want to reach through the page or computer screen and strangle the guy."
Biographical and Critical Sources
American Prospect, June 19, 2000, p. 86.
Antioch Review, spring, 2003, Kyle Minor, review of You Shall Know Our Velocity, p. 373.
Booklist, January 1, 2000, Grace Fill, review of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, p. 860; October 15, 2002, Keir Graft, review of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2002, p. 377.
Entertainment Weekly, March 3, 2000, Clarissa Cruz, "His So-Called Life: Author du jour Dave Eggers' Crazy Existence Gets Even Crazier," p. 67; October 18, 2002, Troy Patterson, review of You Shall Know Our Velocity, p. 117.
Guardian, February 15, 2003, Blake Morrison, review of You Shall Know Our Velocity.
Harper's Bazaar, February, 2000, p. 178.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2003, review of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2002, p. 1033.
Kliatt, July, 2003, review of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2002, p. 5.
Library Journal, November 15, 1999, Eric Bryant, review of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, p. 77.
Nation, March 20, 2000, Elise Harris, "Infinite Jest," p. 45.
New Criterion, December, 2002, Max Watman, review of You Shall Know Our Velocity, p. 93.
New Republic, August 14, 2000, p. 37.
New York, January 31, 2000, Mark Horowitz, "Laughing through His Tearjerker," pp. 30-33.
New York Times, February 10, 2000, p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, February 20, 2000, Sara Mosle, "My Brother's Keeper," p. 6.
Observer (London, England), February 2, 2003, Adam Mars-Jones, "Floored Genius"; February 16, 2003, Nick Hornby, "Nick Hornby on Dave Eggers."
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1999, review of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, p. 72; April 17, 2000, p. 21.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2000, p. 189 spring, 2003, Tim Feeney, review of You Shall Know Our Velocity, p. 143.
Time, February 7, 2000, James Poniewozik, "Dave Eggers' Mystery Box: With a Curious Journal and an Ambitious New Memoir of Orphanhood, This Young Editor and Writer Opens a Package of Literary Surprises," p. 72.
U.S. News & World Report, February 7, 2000, Linda Kulman, "He's Ingenious and He Knows It," p. 62.
Voice Literary Supplement, February-March, 2000, Daniel Handler, "Reality Writes," p. 107.
Washington Post, February 11, 2000, p. C1.
Flak,http://www.flakmag.com/ (September 12, 2003), Eric Wittmershaus, "Ironic Giant: Dave Eggers."
Fox News Web Site,http://www.foxnews.com/ (March 13, 2000), Adam Pasick, "The Glory of Youth."
McSweeney's Online,http://www.mcsweeneys.net/ (February 16, 2004), interview with Eggers.
PopMatters.com,http://www.popmatters.com/ (September 12, 2003), Mitch Pugh, "The Heartbreak of Unfulfilled Promise."
WBUR Boston Web Site,http://www.wbur.org/ (February 22, 2000), Christopher Lydon, "Dave Eggers, Novelist and Editor of McSweeney's."*