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Jennifer Egan
Egan at the 2017 Texas Book Festival
Egan at the 2017 Texas Book Festival
Born (1962-09-07) September 7, 1962 (age 56)
Chicago, Illinois
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania (BA) Cambridge University (MA)
GenreFiction, Novel, Short story
Notable worksLook at Me (novel, 2001), A Visit from the Goon Squad (novel, 2010), Manhattan Beach (novel, 2017)
Notable awardsNational Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, National Book Critics Circle Award
SpouseDavid Herskovits (1994-06-25 -- present)

Jennifer Egan (born September 7, 1962) is an American novelist and short story writer who lives in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.[1] Egan's novel A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. As of February 28, 2018, she is the President of the PEN America Center.[2]

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  • Jennifer Egan: "A Visit from the Goon Squad" | Talks at Google
  • Praia de Manhattan (Jennifer Egan)
  • A visita cruel do tempo - Jennifer Egan
  • Jennifer Egan reads Chapter 1 from "A Visit From the Goon Squad"


>> Female Interviewer: Please join me in welcoming author and journalist Jennifer Egan to Google Cambridge for today's Authors at Google's event. Her most recent novel A Visit from the Goon Squad is the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. It also won LA Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. She is also the author of Emerald City and Other Stories, The Keep, and Look at Me which is a nominee, a nominee for the National Book Award in 2001. Jennifer, welcome to Google. >> Jennifer Egan: Thank you for having me. [applause] >>Interviewer: So it’s been a year now, almost a year since you won the Pulitzer Prize. Can you tell us a little bit more about what this year has been like for you and sorta of the afterglow of winning the prize? >>Jennifer Egan: I think, I mean, I still am not used to the idea that I won it maybe I will finally really grab hold of that idea when someone else wins it. I’ll say, “No, I won it.” [laughs] [laughter] >>Jennifer Egan: But right now I feel like it’s still of source of surprise whenever I think of it which is sort of great you know this sort of I feel like it has this Groundhog Day quality to it where every time I have to, really sort of persuade myself that it’s real. I think that in terms of just kind of how it’s changed the structure of my life it’s mostly that I’ve had the opportunity to find a lot of readers for the first time which is really a thrill. And, well, it’s you know I could easily have said, “I’ve done enough for this book; I’m now gonna move on to my next.” I made the choice to spend quite a bit of time really trying to capitalize on the opportunity to keep finding new readers. So what that means is that I’ve done a lot of talking-- [laughter] >>Jennifer Egan: in the last year and not a whole lot of writing. But again that was that was a choice on my part and I think one reason I made that choice is that this isn’t my first book. I know that this kind of thing happens exceedingly rarely, usually never in a career. And because my work is often not really perceived as all of that mainstream, I just don't presume that I'm gonna have a chance like this again. In fact, I would say that I presume that I won't, so I wanna make sure that I really do everything I can to find as many readers as I can with this book that surprisingly and against my own predictions has found such wide audience and see if I can hold on to some of them [chuckles] for the next few books, if I ever write them. [laughs] >>Interviewer: That seems like a good strategy >> Jennifer Egan: [chuckles] We’ll see we’ll only know a few years from now- >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: if I’m still talking about Good Squad in five years, we’ll l know the strategy didn’t pay off- >>Interviewer: [laughs] >>Jennifer Egan: quite as I had hoped. >>Interviewer: [laughs] [laughter] >>Interviewer: But when you were awarded the Pulitzer, judges called the novel an 'inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed'. I’m curious how do you think the digital age is changing us as readers, as writers what do you make of that sort of literature in that context? >>Jennifer Egan: I mean, in terms of how it’s changing us in a big way it’s such a big question I don't know if I can answer that head on. I know that, I think that the aspect of that question that I was thinking about consciously as I worked on Good Squad was the relationship between the digital and our perception of time. And I think one thing that I was thinking about is the fact that we are much more aware of the speed at which time passes, because of technology, I think. Because of how quickly technology becomes obsolete. So for example when I was growing up, by the time I reached my early twenties, the only real communications event that had occurred technologically was the invention of the answering machine which actually was sort of a big deal because before that you had no way of knowing that anyone had actually called you. [chuckle] >>Interviewer: [chuckle] >>Jennifer Egan: And if you got a busy signal there were, well I guess call waiting would be the other one. So if you think about that from zero to twenty one. The answering machine and call waiting being the only two real communications developments that kind of allowed me to mark change. And then think about nowadays, a person who is twenty one and what they’ve witness in terms of technological evolution. And the surprising outcome of that it seems to me is that all of us have a since of being behind even much younger people who, that I would expect to feel really on top of things often express a kind of anxiety about people who are even younger than they are who’ve had a slightly different experience that feels somehow more current because they’ve kind of come up with whatever technology is predominate right now. And which of course will be totally obsolete in two or three years. So I think that’s one thing. I think it, technology allows us all to feel the passage of time and I think that may have benefited this book in ways that I never predicted. Because when I wrote it I really thought it would be for people over forty. Because I thought who is gonna care about a book about time, what young person would care about that. And in fact when I was reading Proust in my early twenties, a book that really fairly directly inspired this one and which is very, right on the surface about time, I felt bored by everything about the book that referenced time and that seemed to be steeped in nostalgia and I just thought who cares. Time meant nothing to me but what I find interestingly is that even high school students seem sort of interested in time as a subject now. Is that technologically motivated? I don't know. I mean, I think the big question for me in all of my books to some degree has always been how is technology changing and shaping who we are, internally not just in the obvious ways that we do things differently but how does it change who were are to ourselves. I don’t, I think if I ever really think I have the answer to that question, I gonna have to find a whole new direction to go in-- [chuckles] >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: as a fiction writer I don’t really know but it’s extremely fascinating. >>Interviewer: Have you ever thought about writing science fiction? Just thinking about so many writers in that genre play with that concept of time >>Jennifer Egan: I haven’t really >>Interviewer: Time travel >>Jennifer Egan: I’m not well read in that genre at all so I would be very nervous about, striding in there and thinking I could make any kind of contribution that wouldn't be stale and repetitive from the point of view of someone who is really well read in the genre. I, in a very mild way, I bumbled into it in Goon Squad, purely because I wanted to visit a character whom we meet in his early twenties in around 2007, in middle age, so I didn’t really have a lot of options but to go into the future and I really didn't want to I kept thinking there’s gotta be a way around this maybe I’ll move the whole thing even further back, so at one point I was sorta moving scenes from the seventies into the sixties as a way of avoid going, avoiding going into the twenty twenties and then I thought, “no, okay I'm just gonna have to do it,” and I think and I found it quiet fun to imagine forward I have to say— >>Interviewer: [hum] >>Jennifer Egan: once I had resigned myself to it. It didn’t feel like real science fiction so I think I wasn’t intimidated in a way that I might have been. Interestingly, I have sorta, without any real plans to again ventured more into that realm with a shorter piece that I’ve written. That actually is about a character from Goon Squad although it’s not, it certainly would never have fit in this book because I think, structurally, it’s a shift that’s so radical that it wouldn’t have really worked in amongst these the chapters in the book but it is, I would say it could be more overtly called sci-fi and it seems to have happened without my really planning it. >>Interviewer: Do you have a lot of stories that didn't make it into Goon Squad, like you talk about it being very structurally, sorta fit together like a puzzle in a lot of ways, I found it. Were there things that you had to say goodbye to when you were in the editing process. >>Jennifer Egan: Yes, I mean, there were, it , as I wrote it, it had very I wrote very inductively without a clear, it wasn’t that I had a big clear plan and then I filled in the pieces. It was more that I. I was interested in someone and then I would write about them and then out of the corner of my eyes, either a time or a place or a person would catch my eye and I would think what was that like and how can I try to explore that more fully and I, and so I moved through the material that way really guided by my own curiosity, but there were areas that I was curious about that I wasn't able to successfully write about. I still don't quite know why, it some cases it was, I had a rule as I worked on the book. Even though I had such a free flowing approach, I had decided ahead of time, or once I had a few chapters, that each chapter would be about a different person, each chapter would have a totally different mood and tone and feel, and each chapter would have to stand completely on its own. So when I, each time I was working on something, I was asking myself, can it meet these three criteria that was really, that was all I was asking of each part. And in the cases of the chapters that didn't work, they usually failed on all three accounts, interestingly. It wasn't like, well this is really amazing and has a great mood and tone and feel but it doesn't stand on its own so I won’t use it, it was more like no strong narrative point of view, not very compelling or interesting and only of even the slightest interest because of what was around it. So, I think in some cases maybe I had some wrong ideas about characters and so I sorta following them into places they didn't want to go. There was one chapter I really wanted to write in the form of epic poetry and I think to this day if I coulda had that and PowerPoint in one book— >>Interviewer: [laughs] >>Jennifer Egan: it would have been better. [laughs] [laughter] >>Jennifer Egan: But I really cannot write poetry so, that was a problem. [laughs] >>Interviewer: [laughs] >>Jennifer Egan: And I didn't get far. [chuckles] And I couldn't do PowerPoint in the beginning either but that seemed to be a smaller learning curve. [laughs] [laughter] >>Jennifer Egan: than epic poetry, so. But I was really inspired by great epic poems I was reading. One in particular, Don Juan by Byron is just a rollicking, great story, I mean Don Juan, goes, has an affair with Catherine of Russia, joins a harem briefly because he is hiding from someone,-- >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: and so he is dressed up as a girl and then, wouldn't you know it, the sultan picks him to spend the night with. [laughs] [Laughter] >>Jennifer Egan: I mean, there is just such a great adventure story and but it’s also very modern. Byron is sorta giving little asides to the reader in complaining about his breakfast that day and I thought, I just want to do that but, I couldn’t do that. And then there were others that I struggled with in one form and ended up using parts of in other ways. For example, I tried doing PowerPoint using a different set of characters originally and that was unsuccessful, I think, partly because my first thought was who would use PowerPoint to tell a story. And the most obvious answer is a kind of corporate person; a person who thinks in PowerPoint a little bit because they use it at work. But the problem with that was that it actually heightened instead of reducing the biggest problem with PowerPoint as a medium for fiction which is that it feels very corporate. So, me having a corporate person telling a story about corporate life, didn't exactly solve that problem. [chuckles] So, but then I found that I held on to the idea of using PowerPoint and found a different angle of approach. I had also really been interested in pauses in songs for a long time, and I hadn’t really focused a chapter around that but I had kept trying to slip it in. I had an academic writing about pauses in songs in one failed chapter and then I was finally able to use that in a bigger way in the PowerPoint. So I never knew why the ones that didn't work didn’t work, but I definitely knew they didn't work. >>Interviewer: Well, the PowerPoint chapter, and for those of you who haven't read the book you have a real treat to look forward to at the end. It is it is an entire, rich, surprising chapter about communication between Sasha, --who is one of the main characters of the story and written by her son and her daughter--, and it’s really clever and surprising. And I think that, when I came upon that in the galley that I have here and I didn't know it was coming. And I was, turned my book around and like, what is going to happen [chuckles] and you really are reading it horizontally. And it’s, it really shocked me in a way not, necessarily for what is there but for the ways in which the characters came through. Like their voices and that presentation is just so different. I thought it was really a good fit for children of Sasha to be writing it. Just because her life that you read in the, that unfolds sort of in the previous eleven chapters is, it’s really curious and different and she’s just a very interesting person so, not to spoil anything for you, but it’s a great chapter and you did it really well. >>Jennifer Egan: Thank you >>Interviewer: One of the things actually at the very end of the book there is a sentence in that futuristic, near future chapter where Scotty takes the stage, and I think it’s Benny who is really reflecting, this is one of those moments, that people will say they were at this concert when he just stood up and did this thing and he said, at that point he, everyone wanted to own him and he was sort of a living myth. And you write, “doesn't a myth belong to everyone?” And at that moment, I just felt like that line sort of just captured so much what this book is about and that, time and myth and through time and memory we acquire our own myths and we’re writing them all the time and we are telling our own stories. And do you think that is anything that technology can touch, I mean, or is that just as old as the hills? >>Jennifer Egan: That’s an interesting question. I’m, I think probably that’s as old as the hills and yes, technology can touch it. I think it’s probably both, I mean, even that event. There’s a prior kind of converging event in the book which is a disaster. Which is that a publicist has this kind of ultra-hot party at which every who is anyone in several countries is included. And she has this design idea which is that she hangs these Plexiglas trays with oil and colored water in them under bright lights which warm up the concoction and it swirls around and the lights shine through it and it looks really amazing. But what she wasn't thinking about was the fact that the plastic might melt so she ends up dumping boiling oil on to all of these people’s heads and this is really satire. It’s not an exploration of overcoming trauma— >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: it’s more about sort of, what it means to be a publicist in some sense, and questions like that. Anyways, there’s a point where she later, having gone to jail and gotten out, reflects on this event and why it was a failure. And obviously, in part, is was that she poured boiling oil on lots of people and ended her career and caused a lot of them to get little scars. But interestingly the scars become such a mark of honor because it was so hard to be included at the party that it later turns out that lots of people have actually burned themselves with oil-- >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: so that it would look later as though they were at this disastrous party. Anyways, she takes a moment to also reflect on the fact that the party itself was totally wrong. That it, the timing was wrong, the economy was about to crash but no one knew it yet. That as a publicist not just a designer and understand and someone who understands chemical properties, and how to. And she not only failed as an engineer but she really failed as a publicist to kinda read the moment. And she asks the question, “What will be the next big convergence, what will be the thing that everyone gathers around?” And the answer, in the book, and again this is just meant playfully, I mean it’s fiction but the answer ends up being a guy who’s been a quasi derelict whose completely unplugged in every way and really off the grid because he is mentally a little bit fragile. He’s very suspicious of companies knowing a lot about him, an issue I know we’re all thinking about a lot lately. >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: And so, but he is, for very various reasons, sort of hauled in to do this public performance in Downtown Manhattan by his friend who’s a successful music producer. And he is missing a lot of teeth and or a guess he, his teeth had been repaired by then but he stands up and he starts playing this slide guitar and mostly because of technology because all of the people watching it have all of their own devices this is now in the twenty twenties. And this entire event was really created through a kind of harnessing of social networking that I’m imagining a few generations beyond where we are. Because of all of the different forces technological and human and cultural that come to bear on this moment, for whatever reason he is kind of raised a loft as a folk hero. And the idea is that this is kind of a huge seminal moment in the music industry. I don't explore what comes after that because that’s the last chapter. >>Interviewer: [laughs] >>Jennifer Egan: But that’s the idea that there is this question about what the next moment will be and answer. And part of the answer is, has a lot to do with technology. And I guess, mostly the way technology figures in that moment, two ways; one is everyone who is there is there because of technology, because it’s, an event that’s been powered by somewhat surreptitious use of social networking to get people there. But the other reason is that it presumes a kind of reaction against connectedness that makes this man, who is so off the grid and so unknown, and in a way mysterious, whose personal information is not anyone’s but his own. An object of mystery and excitement. So I guess those are the two ways that technology play into that moment. >>Interviewer : Do you have a favorite story in the book? >>Jennifer Egan: Not really, actually. When it’s, given that I have been talking about the book now for going on two years. >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: One nice thing about it is because each chapter has its own kind of own mood and tone and approach, and in a way my model there is really a concept album because the book is so much about the music industry. And I love the idea of one story that’s told in so many different ways that part of the fun of it is the collision of these different styles against each other in the way that a concept album is. But because each chapter has such a different mood, I feel like it makes it easier for me not get tired of it, personally. I can sort of you know if I get tired of reading one part I can read something totally different; it doesn't even sound like it’s part of the same book. So I don’t really, I have to say that I don’t. I have, I would say more that there are a couple that I never read because I know how much trouble I had with them— >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: and I feel like they kind of bear the scars, at least for me, their very difficult genesis and I’ve sort of afraid about them. I’ve never read Out of Body, not once, because that was probably the hardest one to write. And it seems like I got away with it from some people's point of view. But I know for me, it’s just, it's sort of a little bit of the problem of the sausage factory and having sort of seen it made. And feeling like I don't want to push too hard against this or it just might all fall apart. [laughs] >>Interviewer: [laughs] Have you found that readers rally around particular stories of the book or have had chosen favorites or ones that maybe even they distance themselves from more. >>Jennifer Egan: It seems like readers often definitely have favorites. One nice thing is that it doesn't really seem like consensus on which ones those are which I’m glad about it. It makes me feel like there is kind of something for everyone there. I have found that men tend to think the main character is Benny, the music producer, and women tend to feel that it is Sasha [chuckles] >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: his assistant former assistant. But, I think that my own feeling is that it really is both of them. And so no, it feels like it’s one of those landscapes that people see very differently according to who they are. >>Interviewer : And it’s really interesting, too, when you think about Benny and Sasha are the principal charters of the novel but how their stories unfold. And the, all the connections that end up happening between them is one of delightful things about reading this. Because especially when I went back to re-read it I was like, “oh, right, that is how that person got into their life and that’s another bridge between the two.” So the timing of it is so elegant and I feel like it’s almost like it could be staged. It’s very purposeful in its timing and it’s introduction of certain elements. Was that hard thing to do? I mean, how did you line up? It is really choreographed I think, is the only way to say it. >>Jennifer Egan: It’s interesting. I wrote it, you know as I said it, in this very inductive, almost impulsive kind of curious way. And yet, I had a notion that the timeline would move backwards and that--. I can't say it guided me but maybe in comforted me because I thought, “well, I’m writing it in a very chaotic way but it’s gonna have a very organized structure once I get it all done.” Then I had kind of a shock when I because I spent a long time just working on the chapters individually and not working on them together because I wanted to keep their voices very distinct from each other. Then I finally sat down and read it and the backwards order which was supposed to work so well. And I found that it didn't work at all. It was actually really flat and I thought. “Okay, so maybe this just isn't gonna work. Maybe the second part of this book that I had hoped would happen, which was kinda combustion of these different parts combined, won't happen and it will just be some parts.” But oddly, I actually felt like even the parts seemed diminished by the whole. Which is really the opposite of what you are hoping for when you’re writing a book. It felt like the whole was less than the sum of the parts. And so I thought, why is this happening? Is it that it’s just not very good or is there something deeply wrong about the juxtapositions that I have created here? And I began to feel that it was the latter because I felt that like there were all these opportunities for surprise and kind of pleasure for the reader that I was thwarting with my backwards order. So just to give you one example. In the second chapter, the record producer who is going to hear a band that he’s signed to his label. He’s thinking about his days as a punk rocker in the late seventies and it’s two or three sentences but you think, hopefully, “huh, he was a punk rocker, interesting. I wonder what that was like?” He references a club The Mabuhay Gardens, which was a very, kind of the epicenter of the punk moment in San Francisco in the late seventies. So hopefully the readers had that fleeting thought. In my backwards order, I believe, you wait eight chapters [chuckles] to arrive at Benny as a teenager as a punk rocker because we are waiting for 1979 to come along. But in fact, the perfect moment for that chapter to arrive was immediately the next chapter. To basically let the principle of curiosity which guided me through the material also informed the reader's experience. I think that was what I was kind of missing that I removed a lot of the fun that I had had taking these kind of lateral steps for the reader by imposing this chronology which is just as limiting when it goes backwards as it is forward. So what I realized is that I had to let go of chronology completely and let curiosity and little pleasures and satisfactions be my guide. And so those little connections that you talk about and those little surprises were things that started to matter more when I let them guide me-- >>Interviewer: [hum] >>Jennifer Egan: And that was in the end when I had to but that really fell into place fairly late that was shortly before I sold the book and that was a big change that really had to happen. >>Interviewer : Well, it’s wonderful it just really it’s totally what makes it the page turner it is. In spite of the fact that the plot, the pace of it changes as you go from story to story. But that element is there for every one so at the end you're just like, 'it’s over and now there is no more surprises'. >>Jennifer Egan: You know one thing >>Interviewer : But you can go back and that’s the thing it’s like you can go back and reading it again. It’s one of those pleasures where you find, think about characters differently and moments that I had forgotten about come back to me and are fresh and so I think that having that nonlinear sort of approach makes it sort of unique to read over again. >>Jennifer Egan: I’m glad to hear that. I think one thing that I find myself saying to readers sometimes who are a little bit confused by the book because it’s not certainly for a novel very unusually to have no clear chronology and to have all of these different voices and moods and textures. But I think some readers feel a little bit anxious because they feel like there’s some bigger picture they should be getting and might not be getting. And I try to do everything I can to make people not feel that way because really the reason I wrote each chapter to stand on its own was very specifically that I thought if I’m asking people to start over thirteen times, I have to provide a total payoff thirteen times, it’s not fair any other way. So if you read the book without making a single connection between the chapters it should still be fun. And the likelihood is that anyone even reading it in a not very alert way will make some connections and probably wouldn't see all of them until a second read of course because then you know what you are looking for. And who cares; I’m not demanding that anyone read it but once-- >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: much less twice. I mean, my goal really was and always is above all that it just be fun and hopefully feel kind of fresh. But I do find myself saying a lot to readers don't worry and I actually wrote a new introduction to book groups that I recently posted myself on Facebook and put it on my website and also the publisher has it on their readers guide. Basically just saying this, explaining how I wrote it and the structure that it has and absolving people of anxiety and feeling somehow there are things they need to get and if they’re not doing that they’re missing something. Because that’s the last thing I would ever want anyone to feel. >>Interviewer : I like that you mentioned your website because I wanted to call it out as being particularly good author website and in my line of work I have seen a lot [laughs] and some are great and some are really functional. But this one I thought was very unique because you have this sort of timeline for the stories where you select moments in your own life, places you've been, observations you’ve had and you use them to introduce each of the chapters in the book. And I was curious why you decided to draw the curtain back like that. Was it tied to that whole Proustian thing, the unknown element in the lives of other people. >>Jennifer Egan: Well, I think it began a little less loftily than that. I knew I wanted a different website. I felt like the book it had enough technological savvy about it that the, my old website which was basically me grinning-- >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: and some personal information seemed insufficient. And especially I knew, once I was writing the PowerPoint chapter, I was worried that my publisher wouldn't publish it. I thought they’re gonna say you are out of your mind. I wrote it after I had sold the book. They thought I was doing light revisions instead I was creating a seventy-nine slide PowerPoint and preparing to wallop them with it. And I thought what if they say we are not putting this in and so I thought that’s fine. I will just have that chapter heading and a URL address and it will be on my website. In fact there is a color version on my website with a soundtrack that I think is much better. [laughter] >>Jennifer Egan: Anyways, I thought so on the grinning face and personal information was just not a place where this PowerPoint could appear. It didn't work so I thought okay I have to find a new take on the website. And I’m not that website oriented I don't look at a lot of websites. So I went to a great designer and it’s the company that’s Another Limited Rebellion and I said to Noah Scalin, who runs the company, so I just want you to do something great. Take a look at the book and just think about it and just let it rip. And he said, “well, a okay I have a few questions for you.” And he sent me this extremely long questionnaire with questions like, what do you want people to feel when they go on the website? All these things. And I thought, oh my God, and I called him, and I said, “no, no, I am paying you to have the ideas [chuckles] >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: I don't want to fill out this questionnaire.” and he said, “Then, well, I’m sorry; we can't work together.” So I said, “Alright, I’ll fill out the questionnaire.” So basically what he ended up saying to me and what became kind of clear just from filling out the questionnaire was that I needed to have the idea. Because the whole point was that the website and the book would work together in some way, That it was not really his vision to have; it had to be my vision. So I said, “I don't have any visions about this; I don't think about websites.” and he said, “What do you normally do when you are in this position with fiction?” and I said, “I go running.” and he said, “Go running.” [laughter] >>Jennifer Egan: So I went running. And I am not kidding, while running I had a vision-- >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: of how this could work. It didn't look the way it does because that’s all him; it’s so beautifully designed. But I suddenly thought, what if I create a kind of ghostly echo of the book which follows various people through various time periods by using just a little bit of biographical context for each of those chapters which, speak about different moments in certainly New City the life of New York City and also some degree my life. I mean I witnessed that punk moment in San Francisco in the late seventies, etcetera. It was a strange thing for me to do because I don't like to write about myself and I don't. I’ve never blogged I don't tweet I’m pretty reticent about revealing personal information not on principle but because I just don't enjoy doing that kind of writing. But for this it seemed warranted; it felt kind of necessary, artistically. So I went for it and he made it look really good and so I’m so glad that it worked out. >>Interviewer : Did you always know that music was gonna be a central part of the book? That, could Benny ever be a film producer or a writer himself-- >>Jennifer Egan: I don't think so, no. >>Interviewer: Or a music artist? >>Jennifer Egan: I mean, when I started the book, I didn't think I was writing a book. I should have said that. I thought I was taking a little breather from a different book that I was trying to avoid writing by writing a few stories. Or at first, I thought it was just one story. I wrote about a women stealing a wallet on a date and then she briefly mentioned her ex-boss, a record producer, who she mentions to her date, sprinkles gold flakes in his coffee and sprays pesticide in his arm pits. I thought, “huh, gotta find out why he does that stuff.” So I wrote the second, what became the second chapter about Benny, the other major character. Just to write that chapter, which I wrote second without even knowing that I was writing a book, I had to actually do a fair amount of research. Because he’s at work as a music producer and I didn't even really know the difference between analog and digital recording. So I had to spend a fair amount of time on the phone with a mixer, talking about that technology. And in the course of that, what I think maybe the reason that I really locked in with the industry, was that it was poignant to talk to this guy who had worked in music industry for years and constantly have this sense with him of a before and after in the industry. When the before being when it was strong and the after being the current free fall which still has not really ended, of the industry trying to find a workable business model in a digital age. So I guess that got me interested in what it felt like from the inside. There were also a lot of other reasons that I had wanted to write about the music industry for long time as a journalist. Never could really get an assignment which was really annoying. But part of the reason that I couldn't get an assignment was that I knew nothing about the industry and had no connections. The reason I wanted the assignment was so that I could learn about the industry and get connections [chuckles] >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: but the New York Times Magazine was looking for some kind of some opening move from me and I was looking for one from them. So that never really happened. So there was kind of a long standing interest in the industry. And I think also, as I said, Proust was so important as an inspiration. And music plays a huge role in search of lost time both as a plot element and also as an organizing principle. I mean, the novel is really constructed very symphonically. So I guess in a way, that may have, obviously it is a different type of music, but I think it may have suggested to me a kind of musical model. And I think, as we all know from our own lives, time and music are very deeply linked. I mean, music is a kind of time machine and I’ve become only more aware of that as I put meaningful songs from my past on my iPod and find myself immediately having memories linked to those songs every time I listen to them. So, and actually one final reason, there’s so many reasons. I think one reason I loved the idea of the book as a concept album is that the atomized way that we buy music now has in some ways endangered the concept album. The big musical vision that you--. OK, you have the two hits or one hit and that makes everyone buy the album. But the great songs are never those hits. They're always the little in-between ones that are odd and become beloved through lots of listening. But now we just buy the hits or the ones that we heard on the radio or that SoundHound captured. And so I guess I felt nostalgic for that form, for the big musical vision that with all of its component parts and the kind of majesty of all of them colliding and having a listener engaged in all of that. >>Interviewer : What were you listening to when you were writing, do you remember or were you consciously not listening? >>Jennifer Egan: Oh no, I normally don't listen to music when I work. When I wrote this book, I listened a lot. One reason was that it was hard for me; the biggest technical challenge for me was to recalibrate so radically from one chapter to the next. Because, since they don't feel like they're one book, it was just a lot of changing of my own mindset and shedding of one voice to try something totally different for the next chapter. And I found that music really helped me do that. Sometimes it was just locating me in time. So not surprisingly, writing about the punk rock scene in San Francisco in the late seventies, I was listening to music from the punk rock scene-- >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: from the late seventies. Which in a way was so fascinating because bands that never even recorded are still on YouTube. And it was really moving, actually, to watch them. Many of them were dead by then, by the time I was watching these videos. Anyways, so yes, I listened a lot and I think it helped to sink me into the mood and the tone of each chapter. Sometimes, interestingly, the music that helped me was not music that you would think would be connected to a particular chapter. So unlike the punk rock getting me into the mood to write about punk rock, when I was writing the PowerPoint chapter which is called Great Rock and Roll Pauses. And it’s about a kid with an Asperger’s obsession with the pauses in rock and roll songs and he times them and measures them and loops them so he’s just listening to the pauses continuously. And of course I listen to songs with pauses as I worked on that chapter. But when I got very stuck, for some reason, there was a song by the band Lets Go Sailing called Sideways and whenever I would listen to that song, I felt like it captured the mood that I wanted in that chapter. There’s something young, very young and kind of hopeful about the voice and so at one point when I really thought I might not be able to finish the chapter I put Sideways on repeat and walked around Brooklyn and I listened to it continuously for hours. >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: I’m sorry to say I basically can't listen to that song anymore [laughs] >>Interviewer: [laughs] >>Jennifer Egan: I pretty much exhausted it in that one shot but it helped me finish the chapter. I really feel that it did. >>Interviewer: Interesting. So you’ve said that the you think of the novel as a really elastic form that, in fact, can be conceived as really form-bending by use of language and style. Do you think that other sort of integers like format or display or the ways in which people interact with novels can be as form-bending as like pieces of a novel itself? >>Jennifer Egan: I’m not sure I understand your question >>Interviewer: Like what if the, I’m thinking about, if we use language and style to push the limits of what a novel is. Can we redefine what those sort of limits are by the ways in which we consume them or find them or share them? Or do you think that there is that that malleability of form extends to like what the reading is like. >>Jennifer Egan: Theoretically, yes but I’m not totally it’s so hypothetical— >>Interviewer: Right >>Jennifer Egan: that I’m not sure what to envision there. But I guess the big thing I would say what has always driven me to do work that I guess you could call experimental, although I never think of it that way, is usually just that the people that I’m writing about and kind of what needs to happen. That’s always what gets me there. For example, I was very interested in writing in PowerPoint but I could only really get any kind of traction in the form when I found a story that could actually only be told in PowerPoint. So and the reason that I say that, that might sound odd, but the story that I tell in PowerPoint is a very sweet actually I would even say sentimental simple story very little happens. It’s about a family that loves each and struggles and I mean just saying that you think “ahh, cliché alert” but the thing is that interestingly the coldness the very corporate feeling that makes PowerPoint so difficult as a medium for fiction, I think actually worked in that case, for those who agree that it works, because it off set the sweetness and somehow balanced it in some way. So I’m willing to try anything and open to reading anything that is going to give me a great story about people and what they do. And if it’s done in a way that is interesting and innovative, I feel like that’s all the more exciting. What I, personally, am wary of, certainly, as a writer is the impulse to do wacky things with form and kind of impose them onto work that is basically, probably, would best be told conventionally. It's a great effort but it often doesn't end up really working. What I think, what I’m most interested in about experimentation, so called experimentation, is that it lets me tell stories that I couldn't tell otherwise. That’s what’s so fun about it. In the case of the PowerPoint, I, ironically it’s a story I couldn't tell otherwise because it would be so clichéd and slow and simple and way too familiar. But in a way, all of Goon Squad is this very kind of laterally moving story about a lot of different people whose lives who overlap and somewhat entangle. And I don't know how I could really deliver that story in a more conventional novel form. I think that the centrally, the central nature of the novel composition and the relative, compared to Goon Squad, uniformity of tone and voice would have sunk my effort to try to do what I was trying to do here. So that’s really why I had to do what I did it was just serving that particular story and I’m open to anything that is serving a particular story. Whatever, however, the wackier the better why not. [chuckles] I guess one other thing I would say about that is there is a lot of fear out there right now about the future of the novel and people are often saying why will people read if there are so many distractions. And I really share that anxiety. I feel it most as a parent because I have two boys who absolutely would love to play video games from morning until night if I let them and they would pick those over reading any day of the week. And that, I think, it’s not a good thing and on a personal level it literally fills me with terror. So I feel those anxieties but I really do sort of as a writer I feel like if we do our job, the novel should remain very strong. It should not be sapped and weakened by these by whatever new technology comes along. It should be strengthened. It should suck all of it into itself and use it and I feel like people are not gonna read because everyone tells them it’s like taking vitamins and it will make you smarter. That is just a chore and a job. No one’s gonna read if that’s the reason. They’re gonna read--. It’s our job to write stuff that is irresistible that you can't put down, that feels exciting and important. And I really, maybe this is just ridiculous optimism, maybe this is just what I have to tell myself to get through the day, but I do believe that if we do that the novel will thrive will continue to thrive. >>Interviewer: I have just one more question for you before we take questions from the audience and it was, how you feel about writing now after having won the Pulitzer, all these prizes. Like I would imagine that level of success and attention would be overwhelming but also maybe liberating because you’re like, wow, I won the Pulitzer. Like, just, I could just write whatever I want now [chuckles] but maybe it’s not that easy. I don't mean to simplify it but like, it does does it open you up to say what is after this. >>Jennifer Egan: I look forward to really knowing the answer to that question >>Interviewer: [laughs] >>Jennifer Egan: I have found the sort of strange novella story that I’ve written about the character from Goon Squad. I felt completely, I felt like it had no--. The Pulitzer or anything that happened with Goon Squad seemed to have no impact on that. It’s just the project was it had a kind of center of gravity of its own and it just kind of pulled me through it. I’m hoping that’s how it will be with my next book too. The fear is that I’ll feel tremendous crushing pressure and be convinced that this is no good and that everyone will hate it but, in a way, I also feel like, in a way, I know that it's whatever I do next probably forever won't get the kind of love that Goon Squad has gotten. So I accept that right on the outset. I’m grateful for what I’ve had and my personal goal is just to keep getting better. I mean, I really wanna top Goon Squad and try to do something that’s different and very strong, stronger, ideally in its own way. That’s really the bar that I’ve set. So I’m not, I feel like I’m not that worried about what the world says because I kind of already know what it will say and it’s it inevitably will seem to be less good than a book that’s gotten all this love showered on it. And that’s fine. But I do hope that I can do something that I think is interesting and strong and I guess that’s really no different from the way I’ve felt every time so I don't know that it’s really changed the feeling— >>Interviewer: uh huh >>Jennifer Egan: deeply. >>Interviewer: Do you look back at your earlier books and think that you topped yourself with this book? I mean, I love The Keep and that was a totally different book; haunting and wonderful. And I can't compare them because I think they're so different. But I wonder if you think about them that way, like, if one sort, of that you, just raising the bar each time. >>Jennifer Egan: My personal favorite is Look at Me so one before The Keep. So I guess, I feel as you do that they're so different it’s a little bit hard to really compare them. I think that it may be that Goon Squad does its job better than Look At Me but I guess, I still feel, that maybe Look at Me is more ambitious in a certain way. So it certainly was full of a lot of very big abstract questions. I feel like I just like got out there— >>Interviewer: [chuckles] >>Jennifer Egan: and I thought “how has mass media image culture impacted inner life?” I mean, that’s a pretty big question. [chuckles] That’s what I was trying to answer. Or although, interestingly, I think the answer was different than what I thought it would be. I think began the book feeling pessimistic and emerged from it feeling optimistic. But yeah, so I guess I feel that each one has managed to do something different from the others and I'm pleased about that and that’s kind of all I know and I just wanna try and keep doing that.


Background and career

Egan was born in Chicago but grew up in San Francisco. After graduating from Lowell High School, she majored in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania. While an undergraduate, Egan dated Steve Jobs, who installed a Macintosh computer in her bedroom.[3] After graduating, Egan spent two years at St John's College, Cambridge supported by a Thouron Award where she earned an M.A.[4][5] She came to New York in 1987 and worked a strange array of jobs while learning to write, such as catering at the World Trade Center.[6] She has published short fiction in The New Yorker, Harper's, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Ploughshares,[7] among other periodicals, and her journalism appears frequently in The New York Times Magazine. Egan's first novel, The Invisible Circus, was released in 1995 and turned into a movie starring Cameron Diaz.[6] She has published one short story collection and four novels, among which Look at Me was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001.

Egan has been hesitant to classify A Visit from the Goon Squad as either a novel or a short story collection, saying, "I wanted to avoid centrality. I wanted polyphony. I wanted a lateral feeling, not a forward feeling. My ground rules were: every piece has to be very different, from a different point of view. I actually tried to break that rule later; if you make a rule then you also should break it!" The book features genre-bending content such as a chapter entirely formatted as a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Of her inspiration and approach to the work, she said, "I don't experience time as linear. I experience it in layers that seem to coexist ... One thing that facilitates that kind of time travel is music, which is why I think music ended up being such an important part of the book. Also, I was reading Proust. He tries, very successfully in some ways, to capture the sense of time passing, the quality of consciousness, and the ways to get around linearity, which is the weird scourge of writing prose."[8]


Egan at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival

Egan received a Thouron Award in 1986,[5] was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996.[9] In 2002 she wrote a cover story on homeless children that received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award.[6] She was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library in 2004–2005.[10] Her 2008 story on bipolar children won an Outstanding Media Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.[6] In 2011 she was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.[11]

Egan won the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award (Fiction),[12] the Los Angeles Times Book Prize,[13] and Pulitzer Prize for A Visit from the Goon Squad.[14]

Academic interpretation[clarification needed]

Academic literary critics have examined Egan's work in a variety of contexts. David Cowart has read Egan's project in A Visit from the Goon Squad as indebted to Modernist writing but as possessing a closer affinity to postmodern writing, in which "she meets the parental postmoderns on their own ground; by the same token, she venerates the grandparental moderns even as she places their mythography under erasure and dismantles their supreme fictions",[clarification needed]an aspect also touched upon by Adam Kelly.[15][16] Baoyu Nie has focused, alternatively, on the ways in which "Egan draws the reader into the addressee role" through the use of second-person narrative technique in her Twitter fiction. Finally, Martin Paul Eve has argued that the university itself is given "quantifiably more space within Egan's work than would be merited under strict societal mimesis", leading him to classify Egan's novels within the history of metafiction.[17] In 2013, the first academic conference event dedicated to Egan's work was held at Birkbeck, University of London, entitled "Invisible Circus: An International Conference on the work of Jennifer Egan".[18]

Partial bibliography


Short fiction


Reviewing The Keep, The New York Times said:

Jennifer Egan is a refreshingly unclassifiable novelist; she deploys most of the arsenal developed by metafiction writers of the 1960s and refined by more recent authors like William T. Vollmann and David Foster Wallace—but she can't exactly be counted as one of them. The opening of her new novel, The Keep, lays out a whole Escherian architecture, replete with metafictional trapdoors, pitfalls, infinitely receding reflections and trompe l'œil effects, but what's more immediately striking about this book is its unusually vivid and convincing realism.[19]


  1. ^ Cooke, Rachel (September 24, 2017). "Jennifer Egan: 'I was never a hot, young writer. But then I had a quantum leap'". the Guardian. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  2. ^ "Current Board of Trustees (2018-2019)". PEN AMERICA. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  3. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (November 3, 2010). "Inside the List". The New York Times. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  4. ^ Mitchell, Margaret (2009), Hamilton, Geoff; Jones, Brian, eds., Encyclopedia of Contemporary Writers and Their Work, Infobase Publishing, pp. 108–110, ISBN 0-8160-7578-6
  5. ^ a b Whiteman, Sean (July–August 2011). "Surprises Are Always The Best". The Pennsylvania Gazette. 109 (6).
  6. ^ a b c d " Jennifer Egan: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle". Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  7. ^ "Author Details". Retrieved April 20, 2011.
  8. ^ Julavits, Heidi. "Jennifer Egan", BOMB Magazine, Summer 2010. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  9. ^ "Jennifer Egan". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on May 11, 2011.
  10. ^ "Past Fellows". New York Public Library.
  11. ^ Bosman, Julie, Deborah Eisenberg Wins PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, New York Times, March 15, 2011
  12. ^ Bosman, Julie, Jennifer Egan and Isabel Wilkerson Win National Book Critics Circle Awards, New York Times, March 11, 2011
  13. ^ "Jennifer Egan – Novelist and Journalist". Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  14. ^ Discussion of "A Visit from the Goon Squad" in relation to her work as a whole: Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  15. ^ Cowart, David (May 27, 2015). "Thirteen Ways of Looking: Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad". Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 56 (3): 252 in 241–254. doi:10.1080/00111619.2014.905448. ISSN 0011-1619.
  16. ^ Kelly, Adam (September 21, 2011). "Beginning with Postmodernism". Twentieth-Century Literature. 57 (3–4): 391–422. doi:10.1215/0041462X-2011-4009. ISSN 0041-462X.
  17. ^ Eve, Martin Paul. ""Structural Dissatisfaction": Academics on Safari in the Novels of Jennifer Egan". Open Library of Humanities. 1 (1). doi:10.16995/olh.29.
  18. ^ "Invisible Circus: An International Conference on the work of Jennifer Egan  — Department of English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London". Retrieved January 2, 2016.
  19. ^ Madison Smartt Bell (July 30, 2006). "Into the Labyrinth". The New York Times Book Review.

Further reading

External links

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