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10 Surprising Facts About Jennifer Egan: Proust, Steve Jobs & Twitter

By Katie Behrens. Sep 5, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Pulitzer Prize, American Literature

Jennifer Egan is a journalist and writer whose fame exploded with the publication of her unconventional work of fiction, A Visit from the Goon Squad, in 2010. The book was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award and the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011. A Visit from the Goon Squad evades easy description. Is it a novel? Is it a collection of short stories? Each chapter follows a different character, branching out through time and space, in a messy yet elegant story that keeps readers hooked. Therefore, it only seems fitting to profile Egan and her work in the fractured style of a good, old fashioned, numbered list.

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1. Egan best describes Goon Squad as a Chuck Close painting or a 1970s concept album. Each individual story in the book “had to stand on its own and be at the highest level,” but also contribute to the larger collective vision. It is this structure that makes Goon Squad so difficult to categorize.

2. Among her many inspirations for Goon Squad, Egan cites Marcel Proust and the HBO series The Sopranos as being the most influential. In his writing, Proust explored human perceptions of time and consciousness. Egan has said she sees time as layered rather than linear, which led her away from the traditional linear form of storytelling. The “polyphonic” story structure of The Sopranos inspired Egan to bring secondary characters to the front and follow their stories.

3. Egan dated Steve Jobs in college. Jobs even showed up at her apartment one night and set up the brand-new Macintosh computer in her room. Despite her early access, Egan claimed in 2010 to not have an email address (she has one now).

4. Egan loved literary theory in college. Perhaps this is obvious from the way she explores different storytelling techniques. However, Egan stays away from theory now, preferring to be guided by curiosity rather than systems.

5. In original work, Egan always writes her first draft and sometimes even her second draft longhand. She prefers to write on legal pads in an easy chair. She also saves a version of every draft she writes.

6. Though it may seem like Egan isn’t fond of technology, she wrote an entire chapter of Goon Squad as a PowerPoint presentation. “It allowed me to represent gaps — pauses — in a tangible way that I couldn’t accomplish with a more traditional narrative,” Egan said in a 2010 interview with Salon. Critics all agree that what appears to be a gimmick is anything but.

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7. Rock and punk music feature heavily in Goon Squad. Even though Egan grew up around the San Francisco punk scene, she knew almost nothing about music. Her research paid off, and you can even listen to a selected playlist to go along with the book.

8. Egan’s most recent work, a short story titled “Black Box”, was first published in The New Yorker on Twitter. The story is about a futuristic female spy logging notes and was inspired by little reminders that Egan found herself saving to her phone.

9. Egan had a writing fellowship at the New York Public Library in 2004-2005 where she researched women workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. This research might be the foundation for her next book.

10. Goon Squad was optioned by HBO the same week it won the Pulitzer Prize, but critics & Egan herself say it maybe be impossible to translate onto film. It was reported last year that Sundance wanted a crack at the challenge.

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Katie Behrens
Avid consumer of books, media, and general nerdery. Ready to dig deep into a story and match the right books with the right readers.


 

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