Dave Eggers speaks, 2011-12 lineup announced at Pen Pals

Forty to fifty dollars may seem like a steep price to pay to attend a lecture by an author; for that amount one could buy a ticket to see a stadium performance by an aging rock band. Or half a floor-level ticket to see Taylor Swift. Or a teeny, tiny corner ripped off a scalped ticket to see Adele at First Ave. For some reason it's easier to justify the price paid to stand through a four-hour show in a cavernous venue packed with obnoxious drunk people, than to spend a pleasant morning surrounded by nice old ladies drinking coffee in a peaceful suburban arts center, and to be inspired by a brilliant and prolific writer and philanthropist.

Perhaps it's time to rethink our priorities.


The Hennepin County Library Foundation's Pen Pal Author Series, which every year presents a series of talks by accomplished writers in evening and morning lectures, is well worth its $40 to $50 ticket price. We'd venture to say it's far more value for your money than the tiny corner of an Adele ticket.

The lecture last Friday morning, which followed a Thursday evening session, featured renowned author Dave Eggers. Eggers has a number of successful titles under his belt, including You Shall Know Our Velocity (an Independent Book Award winner), What is the What (a chronicle of a Sudanese war survivor), the striking memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (a Pulitzer finalist), plus his latest work of nonfiction, Zeitoun. The author has also made notably forays into screenwriting (Where the Wild Things Are), editing and publishing (McSweeney's), and public service (826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing center for youth).

His appearance, presented interview style with questions posed by MPR's Marianne Combs, lasted just over an hour and hit mostly on the writing of his two oral history-focused books, What is the What and Zeitoun, as well as the subsequent philanthropic work each project has inspired.

Eggers has a nervous energy and an apparent deep introspection and thoughtfulness that makes him endearing. This also goes a long way toward explaining how one person can be so productive, innovative, and influential. During the talk, Eggers shared some important thoughts on art and the process of creating, as well as the responsibility that comes with reporting the life story of another person. The insights he gained on the lives of the two "characters" in these books were only discovered after spending years befriending the subjects, gaining their trust, understanding them better, feeling well-positioned to represent them on the page.

It's an arduous process he does not plan to venture into again anytime soon. His next project is a return to fiction -- a novel about a man who worked at the Schwinn bicycle plant in Chicago before the jobs were moved to China. He explained that most of story takes place in Saudi Arabia, though. "It'll make sense," he promised. Eggers disclosed that he needed a somewhat less heavy project, "a book about cat detectives, or something..." so he could get away from being responsible for someone else's story. He is also currently working on a series of children and young adult print pieces, very much in keeping with his policy of ensuring that the tactile print medium is kept alive and vibrant. During the Q&A session, he disclosed one other project that will certainly be of interest to many in the Twin Cities -- the possibility of an 826 Minneapolis.

Stories like these are well worth $40. At the reading Pen Pals also announced its 2011-2012 season lineup. It kicks off on October 27 with Jhumpa Lahiri, followed by Michael Ondaatje, Wallace Shawn, Brian Greene, and Arthur Phillips. Season tickets are available now, with individual tickets on sale August 15.