A staggering story

Dave Eggers comes to Chico for a Q&A on Zeitoun, the 2011-2012 Book in Common

Drawing of Abdulrahman Zeitoun from the cover of Dave Eggers’ book, <i>Zeitoun</i>.

Drawing of Abdulrahman Zeitoun from the cover of Dave Eggers’ book, Zeitoun.

Dave Eggers, author of the 2011-2012 Chico State/Butte College Book in Common, Zeitoun, will discuss and answer questions about his book Monday, May 7, 7:30 p.m., at Laxson Auditorium.
Tickets: $10-$20, available at University Box Office, 898-6333.
Laxson Auditorium
Chico State

“Dave doesn’t actually do interviews before any of the events that he goes to,” was the response from the assistant for Dave Eggers when asked about setting up a phone interview with the author of Zeitoun, the 2011-2012 Chico State Book in Common.

As it turns out, Eggers does do interviews, just not before his appearances.

“I am going to interview him on stage,” said William Loker, dean of undergraduate education at Chico State, of Eggers’ Laxson Auditorium appearance on May 7.

“Eggers said, ‘Yes, I’ll come up [from the Bay Area to Chico State], but I’m not going to give a talk.’ He wanted to be interviewed.” When asked if this is Eggers’ normal way of doing things, Loker responded, “He’s Dave Eggers—I don’t know what his normal way is.”

Eggers’ colorful, sometimes gritty life history includes the back-to-back deaths of his parents in 1991 and 1992 from cancer when he was just 21; subsequently rearing his youngest brother, Toph, from the time he was 8 years old; losing his sister, Beth, to suicide in 2001; being awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from Brown University in 2005; and being named in 2008 by Utne Reader as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World.” His 2000 book, a memoir titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for general nonfiction.

Zeitoun (pronounced “Zaytoon”)—the nonfiction story of a Syrian-American resident of New Orleans named Abdulrahman Zeitoun who was arrested without explanation and imprisoned under harsh conditions for 23 days after Hurricane Katrina and accused of being a terrorist—is currently being made into an animated movie directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia).

“First of all, everybody should read [Zeitoun] because it’s a great book,” said Loker. “It’s super well-written. It’s probably the best-written Book in Common we’ve ever had. Probably the only rival it ever had was Never Let Me Go [the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and 2006-2007 Book in Common], which is a great novel, a great piece of literature.

Zeitoun is a great piece of nonfiction—extended reporting—that tells us a whole lot about ourselves. That’s what great books do, right?”

Loker said that the book was so gripping, he stayed up till 2 o’clock in the morning reading it his first time around. He recently reread it “and had the same experience. Even though I’d read the whole story [before], it’s just so compelling, you get drawn in.”

Interviewee Eggers (left) and his Laxson Auditorium interviewer William Loker.

The events of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina “were riveting for the country. Everyone was focused on what was going on in New Orleans,” Loker said. “Zeitoun brings together two critical pieces of our national memory—9/11 [which set the stage for the terrorist accusations against Zeitoun] and Katrina. Those were defining moments in our lifetimes. Zeitoun explores them in a really compelling and interesting way.”

To prepare for his interview with Eggers, Loker has been “reading everything he’s written—all of his major works,” including A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, which, like Zeitoun, is “a memoir he wrote about someone else, a first-person account of a Sudanese refugee, an ‘as-told-to’ book.” Loker said he’s also been talking to people about the kind of questions they would like to ask him.

Members of the audience will be able to submit potential questions for Eggers. (Questions from community members may be submitted beforehand to Brooks Thorlaksson at BIC@cscuchico.edu, with “Eggers question” in the message line.)

“Audience members will appreciate hearing about how Eggers came to write about the New Orleans disaster, as well as learning more about his work on literacy,” said Loker.

In fact, the afternoon prior to his Chico State appearance, Eggers will make good on his literary advocacy by visiting Sherwood Montessori school to speak with the many students there who read Zeitoun.