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  • An Interview with Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok
  • Sean Bex (bio), Stef Craps (bio), Dave Eggers, and Mimi Lok

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photo courtesy of McSweeney’s

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photo courtesy of McSweeney’s

[End Page 544]

On March 18, 2015, we had the rare opportunity to interview the celebrated American author Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok, co-founder with Eggers of Voice of Witness, a socially engaged oral history nonprofit, in front of a student audience at the Vooruit cultural center in Ghent, Belgium. The occasion for their visit was Eggers’s being awarded the 2015 Amnesty International Chair at Ghent University in recognition of his human rights work. The interview aimed to give the audience an overall sense of the various creative and charitable projects in which Eggers and Lok are involved and which have earned them widespread acclaim. The published version of it that appears below is an edited and condensed transcript.

Eggers burst upon the literary scene in 2000 with his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which recounts the tragic loss of his parents to cancer and his subsequent struggle to find his way in life with his younger brother Christopher. He followed up this success with You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), a novel in which two young Americans seek to overcome personal tragedy by traveling around the world and, along the way, distributing money to those in need. The novel poignantly balances descriptions of abject poverty with ludicrous schemes devised by the protagonists to donate money to the poor.

In What Is the What (2006) and Zeitoun (2009), Eggers collaborated with victims of human rights abuses in Sudan and the U.S., respectively, in order to give a voice to their suffering. The former tells the story of one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, Valentino Achak [End Page 545] Deng, as he struggles to survive the second Sudanese civil war and suffers from culture shock, indifference, and racism after being resettled in the U.S. Zeitoun focuses on domestic issues in the U.S. as it chronicles the experiences of a Syrian-born New Orleans resident and Hurricane Katrina hero who is arrested and detained without charge on suspicion of terrorism.

Eggers’s other works include How We Are Hungry (2004), a collection of short stories, and A Hologram for the King (2012), an allegorical novel about the decline of America. The novel features a down-on-his-luck American businessman who tries in vain to sell a holographic communications system to the king of Saudi Arabia in a last-ditch effort at turning his own life around. Eggers’s most famous fictional work is arguably The Circle (2013), a cautionary tale about the erosion of privacy in the digital age. It portrays a powerful tech company whose ultimate goal is to make everything known and transparent, at any cost. These are just a few of Eggers’s literary works; there are many more, including several novels as well as children’s books and screenplays.

Apart from being a writer, Eggers is also an editor, publisher, graphic designer, activist, and philanthropist. In 1998 he founded the independent publishing house McSweeney’s. Based in San Francisco, McSweeney’s publishes books, an influential literary journal (Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), a bimonthly magazine (The Believer), and the Voice of Witness book series, which depicts human rights crises around the world through the stories of the men and women who experience them. Voice of Witness has produced volumes on Sudan, Burma, Zimbabwe, Colombia, and the United States, as well as, most recently, a volume on Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Eggers is also a passionate literacy advocate. In 2002 he co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for children and teenagers which has since opened chapters in six other cities across the U.S. He tells the story about 826’s inspiration, early beginnings, and ensuing momentum in a deservedly popular TED talk. Another, more recent charitable project is ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that connects donors with prospective college students who need help paying their high...


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pp. 544-567
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