Best-selling author Dave Eggers urged a Georgetown audience -- especially aspiring writers – to recognize writing as a tool for positive social change during an April 6 literary symposium at Georgetown.
“Books aren’t just a nice thing to have; they can have actual, real-world impact,” Eggers said during the 2010 Lannan Literary Symposium and Festival that ran April 6-7. “That real-world impact is very addictive after awhile when you see that books have that power.”
Eggers knows that power firsthand, having long directed some profits from his work to social projects. Proceeds from his 2006 novel What Is the What
, about a Sudanese refugee escaping the country’s civil war, went toward a school building project helmed by the book’s inspiration -- Valentino Achak Deng.
The author, whose works also include the quasi-memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
and a recount of one man’s Hurricane Katrina experience in Zeitoun
, opened this year’s annual Lannan event, which explored subjects around the theme of literacy, literature and democracy.
Participants from Georgetown in the two-day event included professors Deborah Tannen, Maureen Corrigan, Michael Eric Dyson and Carolyn Forché.
Eggers referred to his own literacy project -- 826 National -- which soon will open a chapter in Washington, D.C. He co-founded the free drop-in writing tutoring organization, which began as 826 Valencia in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2002.
Today 826 has grown into a national network with thousands of volunteer tutors in eight chapter cities -- Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Ann Arbor, New York and Seattle.
Eggers’ 826DC will be located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood and will provide students ages 6-18 with a myriad of writing services -- one-on-one tutoring for writing, college application essay assistance, help with student publications and workshops on fiction, playwriting, storytelling and more. The 826 programs end with a finished product such as a book, newspaper or film that gives young people a vehicle to broadcast their views.
“When we invest, have faith and give young people the opportunity to have their voices heard, then we fertilize the future of the medium and the form …,” Eggers said. “Writing is the most democratic tool to self-empowerment.”
Forché, director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, said Eggers’ address provided the right opening for this year’s theme.
“The center dedicates itself to the convergence of literature and social practice, social justice and human rights,” said Forché, an English professor and Lannan Foundation Endowed Chair.
The symposium also included roundtable discussions with leading authors and alumni about literature in a post-Hurricane Katrina era as well as writing and social activism beyond genocide in Africa.
For a schedule of events, visit the Lannan Literary Symposium and Festival and Web site