When Dave Eggers co-founded 826 Valencia, a tutoring center in San Francisco, he alsohelped to start a business, one specializing in goods fit for Captain Reuter: a pirate supply store.
The honored guest for this years The Writer’s Voice, Eggers referenced this personal connection as he began his address to SU Pirates and community members.
McSweeney’s, Eggers has helped to open 826 additional writing centers similar to 826 Valencia (minus the pirate theme). In addition to tutoring services, the centers offer youth the chance to engage in creative writing; even publishing collections of student work in book form.
For Eggers, writing, reading, and painting was an escape from the tragedy and difficulties he faced as an adolescent.
“For a couple of years there I was going through some rough times, full of angst, alienated from everything and everyone, I was really having a hard go of it through adolescence, and I found validation in [English and painting],” Eggers said.
Eggers’ love of storytelling was augmented by his high school English teacher with whom he still works with to this day.
“I wanted to write about persuading folks to take a bicycle trip to the inner mantle of the earth, after all it was downhill!” Eggers said. “I was kind of a prankster. I was looking for a reaction and found a teacher who took us all seriously.”
Eggers emphasizes the value of patience and understanding when working with students in their writing at his non-profit tutoring center 826 Valencia.
“You cast your net over a wider group of students,” Eggers said. “I tell them ‘let’s get it out on the paper, don’t self censor, earn their trust…and you become a part of them forever.”
What happens when the students get writer’s block?
“The tutor will just chat, 10, 20 minutes, sometimes an hour. Kids are then encouraged to write about subjects they are passionate about. It is all part of trust and validation.”
During the Writer’s Voice presentation Eggers discussed the difficulties of composing a creative nonfiction story like “Zeitoun”, his most recent publication that chronicles the experiences of a Muslim family during destruction and injustice-ridden aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
“The writing was exceedingly slow,” Eggers said. “I don’t think I could write more than two or three sentences at a time without calling someone for confirmation.”
Eggers also commented that authors cannot get too bogged down in the experience of writing this type of story, and encouraged writers to step back and capture the experience from the character’s point of view.
“I don’t think the author sees that himself,” Eggers said. If you get caught up in your own patterns and theories, then you lose the art of it I think. So much of it has to be unconscious.”
Throughout his presentation, Eggers championed the transformative power of writing.
“[Reading can] drive people to action…drive people to change,” Eggers said. “There is no better democratic means of empowerment than the written word.”
Eggers also emphasized the capability and responsibility writer’s have to encourage sympathy and inspire change.
“If we want to understand, we have to read. We have to tell stories,” Eggers said. “[There is] no better way to engender empathy, to understand, to experiences [others’] experiences…to live in their skin, to walk in their shoes…that tickles your ‘justice bone’, that unites our minds…than to read.”
After discussing the merits of reading and writing and the value of storytelling in human society, Eggers took a few minutes to share some of his less than serious compositions, including, to the delight of the audience, a series of letters to prominent CEO’s from “a dog named Steve”.
“I am allergic, actually, so we can’t own a dog,” Eggers said. “It is my most joyous writing, this cart wheeling downhill kind of experience, where I associate wind, speed, joy and abandon. Dogs are noble and ridiculous. When I am inside this voice with a different set of rules, different observations can be made, and it is totally free.”
Following the rendition of “letters from Steve”, Eggers talked about his enthusiasm for writing stories and insisted that anyone really can write anything.
“You never know when you’re going to find the most joy, the most passion in writing,” Eggers said.
Students had many opportunities to direct questions to Eggers in various classes throughout the week and during a luncheon held following the Writer’s Voice event. Most students had nothing but appreciation, enthusiasm, and praise for Eggers message.
“Eggers is a perfect fit for Southwestern,” sophomore Jacob Brown said. “He not only stands for lifelong learning in his range of interests…but he’s also dedicated to civic duty- changing the world for the better.”
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