On this day in 2000, “A Heartbreaking World of Staggering Genius,” 29-year-old Dave Eggers’ best-selling memoir about his experiences raising his younger brother following the cancer-related deaths of their parents, makes its debut. The critically acclaimed book became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and turned Eggers into a literary star.
Eggers, who was born in Boston in 1970 and raised in Lake Forest, Illinois, studied journalism at the University of Illinois. However, at age 21 he dropped out of school in order to care for his 8-year-old brother Toph, after their parents died of cancer within five weeks of each other. The brothers moved to Berkeley, California, where Dave took care of Toph and worked as a graphic designer and writer and co-founded the satirical magazine Might. Egger’s chronicle of this time, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” was labeled a hip, original and funny tearjerker, filled with clever anecdotes, charts and footnotes. In 2001, the book was the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction (Ted Conover’s “Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing” won the award).
Following the success of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Eggers wrote the 2002 novel “You Shall Know Our Velocity,” about two friends who travel around the world trying to give away a large sum of money, and the 2004 story collection “How We Are Hungry.” Eggers’ 2006 book “What Is the What” blended fact and fiction to tell the story of Sudanese “Lost Boy” refugee Valentino Achak Deng. In 2009, Eggers published the well-received “Zeitoun,” about real-life Syrian immigrant Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a New Orleans resident who remained there during Hurricane Katrina then paddled around the flooded city in a canoe rescuing people.
Eggers is also the founder of McSweeney’s, a publishing company that produces books, a literary journal and a magazine called The Believer. Additionally, he has penned screenplays, including 2009’s “Away We Go,” co-written with his novelist wife, Vendela Vida, and “Where the Wild Things Are,” a 2009 big-screen adaptation of the classic children’s story of the same name. Eggers is known for his philanthropy and has helped establish a number of nonprofits, including 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based writing and tutoring program for young people, which has opened chapters around the United States.