Dave EggersLast night was the opening of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival at the Town Hall. Clive James delivered the keynote speech, and as I suspected he might, it was more a comedy routine than a public address.  I don’t know what the organisers thought they would get: frivolous fun? Well, they certainly got it. James can still turn a phrase, but, after half a century of reading and writing, I wonder why you would want to go the long way around an hour and a half to arrive at a few apt observations and hollow jokes. I think like most who attended, I still want to read Cultural Amnesia, I just hope it doesn’t leave me bemused and unfulfilled like last night.

 

On the other hand, Dave Eggers was refreshing — self-deprecating, but not for effect — and more interested to talk about his community projects than his books. Unsurprising really, as he has written two memoirs; his own and that of Sudanese Refugee Valentino Achak Deng. Tony Wilson directed some good questions to keep Eggers talking, and read passages from his debut, A Heart-breaking Work of Staggering Genius, as well as his latest, What is the What, which segued nicely into the question of Eggers’ evolution as a writer. Before I started reading What is the What I associated Eggers with McSweeny’s post-modern wank. Not saying that it’s not (and the more I read the less I think it is), but it’s clear that Eggers’ heart, his purpose, is in a different place with projects such as 826 Valencia and What.

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