Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers
London Book Signing — Huck celebrates three of Dave Eggers' real-world projects inspired by the subjects of his books.

Dave Eggers came to us as an orphan, baring himself to the world in his heartfelt memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. At twenty-one, he was left to raise his eight-year-old brother after their parents died of cancer in a span of five weeks. But that was only the beginning. Since then, Eggers has re-energised America’s lit scene with McSweeney’s, his literary journal-turned-publishing house, founded a national network of tutoring centres tucked behind fantastical shops, and collaborated in books, film and music with the likes of Spike Jonze, Judd Apatow and Beck.

Eggers is determined to lead a creative life while doing good along the way. Not content with leaving the issues and ideas that energise him in the pages of his books, he brings many of them to life through real-world projects. To celebrate Dave Eggers’ book signing in London at 6:30 on Tuesday March 3 at Waterstone’s Piccadily, Huck presents three of his raddest projects to date: McSweeney’s publishers, 826 Tutoring Centres and the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.

McSweeney’s Publishers

With McSweeney’s, the publishing house he founded in San Francisco, Eggers has injected a sense of fun experimentation into the literary landscape. As well as publishing  The Believer and Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Eggers started experimenting with the physicality of books themselves: abandoning dust jackets, starting the first chapter on the cover. Cutting covers, painting covers, carving covers. Changing the way books were made.

“Because we collaborate pretty closely with the printers, the possibilities open up so much,” he explains. “I feel like we’ve seen a lot more books in the last ten years that have aspired to a higher level of craft. A lot of that is because of the same thing we’re doing – trying to give people a more clear choice between a physical book and an ebook. In order to survive as a physical book publisher, you have to make the books more wantable as objects.”

Check out more of the print and paper goings-on at the McSweeney’s website.

826 Tutoring Centres

Inspired by friends who, like his mother, were teachers, he decided to put a classroom at the centre of his office at 826 Valencia. The project created a network of tutoring centres that help children and young people around the US develop their writing skills. Eggers says 826 had immediate impact from the very first student. He had stumbled on a model for sustainable, effective, community-level change. The centre’s success inspired McSweeney’s collaborators Nick Hornby and Roddy Doyle to set up transatlantic cousins, the Ministry of Stories in London (where Eggers will also be appearing at 1.30pm on Wednesday, March 5) and Fighting Words in Dublin.

“When you have a couple thousand tutors that are signed up and weaving themselves into the schools and helping at 826 and after school and during field trips, you are tightening the fabric of that neighbourhood,” he says. “I feel like knowing that you’re part of that latticework and knowing that you have a role to play, it’s both very inspiring – ‘I’m part of this fabric, I help keep things together’ – and it can be very validating. But it’s also very humbling, you’re just part of that fabric. There’s a lot of threads that matter, that have to interconnect.”

To find out more, check out the 826 Tutoring Centres website.

Valentino Achak Deng Foundation

With each book, Eggers seems to find a new micro project. What is the What – which tells the real story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of Sudan’s lost boys, who fled civil war by crossing the desert on foot, eventually finding his way to America–inspired a foundation that built and operates a school in Deng’s home village.

How do these projects come about? Is it that after writing the book he feels there’s something left to address? “It always comes out at about the same time and it’s something I’m trying to cure myself of,” Eggers explains. “I always thought there had to be some real-world application. So when I wrote about Valentino’s life [in What is the What], we thought of a school in his hometown and then the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation. We built this school and all of these buildings happened from Valentino’s story. Now they’ve graduated their first class. It’s about trying to make something tangibly impactful out of a story.”

Check out the VAD Foundation website for more info.

Dave Eggers will be signing copies of his new book The Circle at Waterstone’s Piccadilly in London on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at 6:30PM (Check out the Waterstones website for more information) and at the Ministry of Stories in Hoxton on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 1:30PM.

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