Many writers, having written a first best seller, might see it as a nice way to start a career. Dave Eggers, 35, started a movement instead. His 2000 memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was as comic and rollicking as a deeply felt story of losing both parents at a young age can be. But Eggers' influence stems less from his original voice than from parlaying his success into a combination of indie publishing empire, literary circle and social-works project.
The roots of the Eggers universe are in McSweeney's, the literary magazine he founded in 1998. It became known for publishing famous and unknown writers who combine earnestness about art with an erudite playfulness. (One issue included a section of stories each written in 20 minutes.) It and offshoot McSweeney's Books are also devoted to giving writers more control over their work and, ideally, profits than do big publishers. (McSweeney's Books published Eggers' 2002 novel You Shall Know Our Velocity and his 2004 story collection How We Are Hungry.) Eggers also founded 826 Valencia, a tutoring program for kids in San Francisco that is expanding nationwide. With McSweeneyan whimsy, the San Francisco and Brooklyn branches have signs identifying them as, respectively, pirate- and superhero-supply shops. (Think the Partisan Review meets Habitat for Humanity, with a touch of Monty Python.) Some call the tight-knit McSweeney's universe a community, others a literary clique potato, po-tah-to but Eggers' enterprises are refreshingly dedicated to the idea that writers can actually change things in more than an abstract sense. He continues to write as well, and a movie adaptation of Heartbreaking is in the works. Expect Eggers to keep up his neck-breaking pace of staggering intensity.