Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2007

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers receives the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for his accomplishments as a man of letters and for his generosity and inspiration.

A critically acclaimed novelist, Dave Eggers has enjoyed meteoric commercial success - success that has helped propel him into the worlds of philanthropy, advocacy and education. As a best-selling author who has displayed agile versatility in form and tone, he has advanced his love of language by founding and largely funding a series of inner-city writing laboratories for children as well as a publishing house for young and underappreciated writers.

Having burst onto the literary scene before he was 30 with his best seller, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, in which he chronicled his caring for his 8-year-old brother after their parents died a month apart, Mr. Eggers has since enjoyed widespread praise in both fiction and nonfiction. This was especially true with his 2006 novel, What is the What, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award for Fiction. The novel, a blend of biography, fiction and journalism, recounts the tragic story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, whom Mr. Eggers came to know and whose heroic odyssey the author tells with authenticity and pathos. The New York Times Book Review called the novel "eloquent testimony to the power of storytelling." All author fees and profits from the best-selling novel are committed to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, which has already begun building schools and community centers in war-torn southern Sudan.

It is his infectious love of writing - together with an inspiring commitment to nurturing young literary voices - that provided Mr. Eggers the impetus to found 826 Valencia, a writing laboratory for youth that has expanded from his home in San Francisco to six more U.S. cities. At a time when other young writers would be thinking of little more than what their next best seller might be about, Mr. Eggers concentrated on and used monies from his book earnings in 2002 to open the first center, providing free tutoring, English as a Second Language classes, writing workshops, summer camps, publication projects and other services to kids ages six to 18.

In order to help emerging writers, Mr. Eggers also launched McSweeney's, a publishing house that produces his and other writers' works, as well as McSweeney's, a literary quarterly; The Believer, a monthly magazine on literary and political matters; and the Voice of Witness oral history series about social injustice. Having co-authored a book in 2005 about the relationship between teacher compensation and student achievement, Mr. Eggers also has become an outspoken advocate for raising teacher pay.

Dave Eggers is not only an accomplished and versatile man of letters but the protagonist of a real-life story of generosity and inspiration. By infusing his love of writing into the broader community, he is nurturing the talents and aspirations of a new generation of writers and creating new outlets for a range of literary expression. Whether as a writer, mentor or benefactor, he has provided voice to the value of human potential.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

August 2010 - Dave Eggers is one of the winners of the 31st annual American Book Awards, given for literary works that cover "the entire spectrum of America's diverse literary community." Eggers was cited for Zeitoun, a novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans. - Boston Globe

February 2010 - The Los Angeles Times presented its first Innovators Award to author and publisher Dave Eggers for his multifaceted, spirited commitment to literature. Eggers leads the trend-bucking independent publishing house McSweeney's, which offers books, magazines and a form-shifting quarterly journal. He also founded the 826 literacy centers -- now operating in Los Angeles and six other cites -- which help at-risk young people engage with the written word. - Los Angeles Times

January 2010 - Dave Eggers named to Poets and Writers magazine's "Fifty Most Inspiring Authors in the World". Fearless, inventive, persistent, beautiful, or just plain badass - the list gathers "some of the living authors who shake us awake, challenge our ideas of who we are, embolden our actions, and, above all, inspire us to live life more fully and creatively." - Poets and Writers

November 2009 - Dave Egger's novel What Is The What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng has won the 2009 Prix Medicis for best foreign work of fiction. A fictional reworking of a true story told to the author by the book's hero, What Is The What describes the odyssey of a boy from his native village in Sudan, to a Kenyan refugee camp, and ultimately to Atlanta. - Consulate General of France in San Francisco

November 2009
- The National Book Foundation has awarded The Literarian Award Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Dave Eggers, author, editor, journalist, publisher, screenwriter, and co-founder of 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for youth. - National Book Council

Speech

10/22/2007 - Acceptance Speech

I just want to say thank you so much, Mrs. Heinz. And thank you to the Heinz Family Foundation; I'm so glad I shaved for this, looking there is really embarrassing, and I want to thank everyone else here who had anything to do with this honor. I was flabbergasted when I got the call, when you called, and I'm flabbergasted now and I've never been so nervous, I'm going to read this so I don't screw up.

Because this award will do so much for 826 Valencia, I want to thank the incredible staff of the seven 826 chapters, in particular two people who help build our first center from the ground up. Barb Bersche, a high school friend of mine, filed the original paperwork, helped paint the walls and install the Ikea floorboards with me. Ninive Calegari, was teaching high school in Mexico when I lured her back to San Francisco to run the organization. She took a vague, but optimistic idea and made it real and practical and vital. She is chiefly responsible for the organization's continued health and growth.

826 is hell-bent on helping teachers any way we can, in part because I benefited endlessly from an incredible, uninterrupted succession of extraordinary teachers. Like it or not, I'm going to name as many as I can right now: Mrs. Mellinger, Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Bryngelson, Mrs. Glacking, Mrs. Dunne, Ms. Zywicki (she was an ex-nun, she taught me how to diagram sentences), Mrs. Zeller, Mrs. Dristle, Ms Silber, Mr. Criche (I tried to impress him by carrying around a copy of As I Lay Dying, he was not so impressed), Mrs. Lowey, Ms. Pese, Mr. Benton and Mr. Hawkins, and Mr. Ferry (who is an incredible teacher and writer, who will publish his first novel this winter).

Most of the teachers I just named taught in the same public schools for decades, and a good deal of them are still teaching today. Part of the reason for their longevity is that they were paid fairly and were allowed the freedom to be creative. The freedom that teaching well requires. We've got to treat our teachers like the highly educated and innovative professionals that they are. If we continue, as many of our elected leaders do, to blame them instead of exalting them, to tether them instead of empowering them, then we will lose not only the next generation of gifted teachers but we will forsake a generation of deserving students.

Finally I'd like to thank my family, educators all, professional or otherwise. My sister Beth, whose tenure as a fifth grade teacher constituted the best time of her abbreviated life. My father and brother, Bill, staunch individuals both, they taught me to think independently and question every assumed notion. My mother, tireless, indescribably strong, a teacher who believed in kids more than they believed in themselves. My younger brother Toph, who continues to teach me the value of honesty, openness, and not taking myself too seriously. My other, newest brother Valentino, who taught me how to be a man and finally Vendela, my beloved bride and best friend; I don't dare to imagine where or what I would be without you.

Thank you all.

Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers