I managed to get to a couple of events at the Melbourne Writers Festival last week. Ideally I would have shared my thoughts immediately after each session, while all that ace-ness was still fresh in my mind but unfortunately, much of my brain space was taken up with studying for the exam I had on Monday. So, first up, here are my takeaway messages from Dave Eggers.
I love Dave Eggers a bit more than I already did previously when, slightly disoriented at the start of the talk he said he’d only arrived in Australia yesterday and it was “…a million o’clock…” for him. From that statement alone, I’m confident he also recognises eleventy-billion as a number. And just to lock-in the love, there was a baby in the audience, whose nappy he signed. Actually, the whole thing kinda felt like meeting a rock star…
Eggers wasn’t there to talk about his new book, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, but rather 826 Valencia and 826 National. Also on the panel was Lachlann Carter, the man behind Footscray’s 100 Story Building, a project similar to 826 Valencia (in fact, Carter was a volunteer with 826 National).
Eggers talked in detail about how 826 Valencia came about (and why it is also known as the go-to place for pirate supplies in San Francisco). I’m sure that he has told the story of 826 Valencia a thousand times but his enthusiasm and gratitude for the volunteers that make it happen, and to the kids whose creativity and determination also make it happen, clearly hasn’t waned.
There was lots of discussion around publishing children’s work (dignifying their efforts with proper presentation and a legitimate audience); specific projects such as Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country (kids letters to President Obama); the value of comics (because they remove the ‘written word’ barrier and still allow for sophisticated story telling); the importance of providing a ‘creative’ space for children, particularly to demonstrate that school is not the only learning space; and the alarming ‘drop in creativity’ in children over the last 10-15 years (according to research done using Torrance tests).
Kids might be ‘smarter’ now but are they more ‘creative’? Of course these things are difficult to measure and equally, it’s tricky to quantify the success of projects such as 826 Valencia – you can assess improvements in literacy but how do you capture the growing confidence that comes with that? I reckon we just have blind faith in the fact that reading is a good thing.
It seems to me that Eggers has a lot of knockers (they weren’t in the audience but you can find them on Goodreads and Amazon). People were quick to can The Circle and I’ve seen references to ‘wanker’ regarding his latest release. Huh. All of those people can jam it. You might not like the way he puts words together on a page but the 826 projects are incredible, creative, life-changing and truly inspirational. It was a privilege to hear him talk about the project.