Jennifer Egan and her book, Candy House | Credit: Pieter M. Van Hattem; Courtesy
Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Jennifer Egan’s work resides at an interesting intersection of popular culture and literature (with a capital L). They’re ambitious, serious works that also are very funny and accessible. “To read a writer who has such a rich public scope, as well as such a sense of the private world, is rare. There are very few I know who combined those two. I think that’s one reason she’s become one of the most popular and cherished, respected writers in the country,” said Pico Iyer, who will interview Egan (The Candy House, A Visit from the Goon Squad) on Sunday, November 6, at Campbell Hall.
Asked about her work, Egan said, “In the end, the only thing that matters to me is fun. I see myself as an entertainer, and I read fiction to escape into another world. My personal definition of ‘fun’ includes fresh language and ideas; without those things, a novel feels thin and won’t usually hold my interest as a reader. I get a lot of feedback to make sure my fiction is delivering the effects I want it to. One of those effects is often humor; I love to find the hilarity that results from following logical events to absurd extremes.”
Egan, who also works as a journalist and teaches literature, said that both help inform her books. Journalism has broadened her knowledge. “I couldn’t have written my books without it,” she said. “For example, there’s a lot about addiction in The Candy House, both to tech and to opioids. My knowledge about that comes from a story I worked on for the New York Times Magazine about women with opioid dependency who become pregnant. I spent months in and around methadone clinics and working with people in recovery, and they made a huge impression on me.”
Teaching “has helped me to define the way I see fiction working in the world: as the dream life of the culture that makes it. There’s so much information baked into fiction, and I’m not sure there’s any better way to understand the interior lives of other human beings than to read it. It’s the prism that shows us everything.”