Bexley News

Jennifer Egan visits Bexley

Author offers real look at a writer's process

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Jennifer Egan chats with students at Bexley High School.

With the ease and poise of an accomplished writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan chatted with students at Bexley High School last week like she chats with youngsters every day.

She does, in fact -- she is a mother.

From the revelation that she writes her raw material by hand, to the interruptions she wrestles with when e-mailing and texting her sons' baseball coaches and teachers, Egan quickly revealed to her audience that she is very real.

She remembers her days as a high school student as being awkward. Although she desperately wanted to be a leader, she was an observer, she said.

She once thought she wanted to be a doctor, then an archeologist. But it wasn't until college that she discovered her love for writing.

She shared how she loved the HBO show The Sopranos, and when it comes to reading, she chooses thrillers and mysteries.

She is very real, but she never writes about herself.

"I don't use my life very much (for inspiration)," she told a group of juniors and seniors at Bexley High School April 17. "I wish I could do it more."

Instead, she told students, "I'm looking to be lifted out of my own life. I am more likely to write about someone different from me, which gives me that feeling that I've sort of escaped from my life."

It's that escape she also seeks as a reader.

"But why are your stories depressing?" asked one student who had been reading a variety of Egan's short stories.

Egan countered with the idea that her stories and characters are not depressing, but true to life.

"I'm interested in human beings and what they do," she said. And in life, being human means overcoming a myriad of obstacles and pain, she explained.

"I don't know if I see that as depressing. I see it as human. I don't think my fiction is any more depressing than human life itself, which is always a mix of positive and negative."

Egan said she finds her inspiration for writing in many ways. She gets many ideas for characters from the journalistic pieces she writes. Books and other authors also serve as inspiration.

Even The Sopranos served as an inspiration for her latest novel, A Visit from the Good Squad, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

Like the television series, A Visit from the Goon Squad was painted on a large canvas -- but with many subplots. There was plenty of mystery, and it dealt with the passage of time along with its influence on change.

Originally, Egan had the book laid out in reverse chronological order.

"But it wasn't very good," she said. "There was no sense of a jolt of satisfaction."

So she began to rearrange the chapters in a way she felt would better arouse the reader's curiosity.

"There's a lot of trial and error that goes into writing," she told her young audience last week, "and it never really ends. But we just kind of reach a point where you've done the job as well as it seems you can do, and you hope it has an impact."

Writing has not always come easily to Egan. Struggling in a temp job in New York City with little money and only an apartment couch to sleep on, Egan discussed how she plugged away at her work and never gave up.

Her persistence paid off with accolades, awards and a steady following.

Egan addressed a range of guests in a packed Schottenstein Theater April 16, then kept students on their toes the morning of April 17 during two brief question-and-answer sessions followed by a small luncheon with a select number of students.

The visit was the culmination of eight months of preparation for the author.

The annual author event is sponsored by the Bexley Community Book Club, a part of the Bexley Education Foundation.