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Writers on Writers: Dave Eggers Anoints the Next Literary Stars

The author and 826 Valencia founder highlights five former students with breakout potential.

Dave Eggers
(1 of 6)

Chinaka Hodge
(2 of 6)

Sally Wen Mao
(3 of 6)

Andrea Torres
(4 of 6)

Eamon Doyle
(5 of 6)

Antal Polony
(6 of 6)

Chinaka Hodge: I always thought Chinaka would be president, but, oh well, she wants to be a writer (You can see why here). When I met her, about 10 years ago, she was in high school and was a celebrated spoken word poet with Youth Speaks. She went on to give the commencement address at her NYU graduation, publish a book of poetry, and get a master’s in screenwriting from USC. Somewhere in between, she wrote a play produced at Intersection for the Arts, earned a Sundance screenwriting fellowship, appeared on Def Poetry, and worked with luminaries like Suzan-Lori Parks and Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Her goal is to originate a TV series, and because she’s gifted, and bold, and her work is very brave—and because she works her tail off—she’ll get there. And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always the presidency.

Sally Wen Mao: Every year, we give out a Young Author’s Scholarship at 826 Valencia. It’s cash for college tuition, and it goes to a young person of promise who intends to become a writer—at least as much as they’ve figured that out at age 18. Sally was one of our earliest winners, and even when she was a teenager, her work was bizarrely, preternaturally mature. There wasn’t much time spent worrying about teenage things; she got straight to universal issues, expressed through exquisite detail and lyricism. Her first book of poems, Mad Honey Symposium, comes out next year. It has all the delicacy of her earlier writing—but now there’s also a gritty, world-wise sense of humor that gives her work heavyweight swagger.

Eamon Doyle: Eamon’s work is very clever and very funny. Influence-wise, it runs the gamut from Jonathan Swift to Shel Silverstein to Jorge Luis Borges. Given that he’s an unabashed word nerd, it should come as no surprise that Eamon is working on a book about reading the dictionary. He’s been sending me chapters as he finishes them, and it’s clear that he’s on to something. Every page of the book illuminates his love of language and sheds some light on how these words relate to his own life, family, and history. It’s a nice companion to Eduardo Galeano’s recent Children of the Days—both take a playful approach to language and history (personal and global), and both reward very close reading.

Antal Polony: Antal was in my Best American Nonrequired Reading class, and even back then, it was obvious that he took books very, very seriously. He showed up early and stayed late, wanting to talk more, understand more; he had more questions than I had answers. I knew he was a different kind of kid, but I didn’t know that he’d be the first student in that class, or at 826 in general, to finish a novel. His book, Inheritance, is a thick, sophisticated, multigenerational political saga that takes place in Oakland. The scope of what he’s done, as a writer in his mid-20s, is deeply impressive.

Andrea Torres: Like Chinaka, Andrea is one of those young people who seem equally comfortable in the roles of poet and community organizer. Thank God she doesn’t have to choose. As a high schooler, she was already an accomplished writer and wrote blistering poetry—confessional and political—while also finding time to tutor our younger students. She won one of our 826 scholarships and is now at S.F. State, majoring in Latino/a studies. As a passionate advocate—in person and in verse—for the rights of immigrant students, she’s living up to State’s great tradition of student activism. Andrea assuages any fears we might have for the future of the written word or its role in the promotion of understanding and justice. She’ll carry the torch.

Read More Writer on Writers:
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Chinaka Hodge and Ryan Coogler Brown-Bag It At Skywalker Ranch
Helene Wecker feels Kara Levy's Chronic Pain
 
Ali Liebegott and Daniel Handler Hit the IHOP 
Jennifer Kahn asks Michael Lewis, "What the hell?"
Michelle Tea Follows Lucy Corin To The End of Days
Douglas Mcgray and Jon Mooallem Go Birding at the Ballpark
Dave Eggers Anoints the Next Literary Stars
Leath Tonino and Rebecca Solnit Take a Ramble
Yiyun Li Watches Mac Barnett Create A Mystery

Andrew Sean Greer Challenges Lysley Tenorio to a Meatball Skype-Off
Robin Sloan and Ellen Ullman Hear Voices
Peter Orner and Ethel Rohan Kick Sand In Bolinas
John Lescroart and Spring Warren Drink To Optimism 
Joshua Mohr and Sam Sattin Search For Meaning in Bowling

 

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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