Dave Eggers Will Prove You Wrong
At the Tribeca Rooftop the other night, members of the Authors Guild gathered to celebrate Dave Eggers. The mood was light; the crowd young. Previous galas had been held uptown, at the Metropolitan Club, which, according to numerous guests, was stuffy.
Zadie Smith circulated through the room in a strapless dress, a knit cardi, and a turban—looking bohemian with a splash of glamour. I asked her how she met Eggers, whom she’s known for five years. “My memory of how we met was that I paid for a subscription of McSweeney’s. At a certain point, for a hundred dollars, he was giving away McSweeney’s for life, and you could have all the back issues or something. I paid the money, but they never arrived, so I e-mailed the editorial office, saying, ‘Where the hell are my issues?’ ” She laughed. “So, that’s how we met: customer complaint.”
Eggers, who didn’t know that the evening was black tie (“I bought this today at Macy’s," he said, "It's a Donald J. Trump collection tie.”), was being honored for his charity work. The focus was on 826 National, the nonprofit writing and tutoring centers aimed for children ages six through eighteen. The name originates from the first center Eggers founded seven years ago, in the Mission District of San Francisco at 826 Valencia Street. He seemed slightly anxious, but excited, as he took the podium to address the crowd. He spoke with conviction as he twisted a paperclip in his hands:
To any of you who are feeling down, and saying, “Oh, no one’s reading anymore”: Walk into 826 on any afternoon. There are no screens there, it’s all paper, it’s all students working shoulder to shoulder invested in their work, writing down something, thinking their work might get published. They put it all on the page, and they think, “Well, if this person who works next to me cares so much about what I’m writing, and they’re going to publish it in their next anthology or newspaper or whatever, then I’m going to invest so much more in it.” And then meanwhile, they’re reading more than I did at their age. … Nothing has changed! The written word—the love of it and the power of the written word—it hasn’t changed. It’s a matter of fostering it, fertilizing it, not giving up on it, and having faith. Don’t get down. I actually have established an e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org—if you want to take it down—if you are ever feeling down, if you are ever despairing, if you ever think publishing is dying or print is dying or books are dying or newspapers are dying (the next issue of McSweeney’s will be a newspaper—we’re going to prove that it can make it. It comes out in September). If you ever have any doubt, e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you’re wrong.The crowd responded with rousing applause. Some rose to give a standing ovation. Others, with guilty looks on their faces, stood up to leave. It was late. But for a night, at least, print lived.
(Photograph: Anna King)