Bookish Birthday: Jennifer Egan

6th Sep 2012

Jennifer Egan
American novelist and short story writer Jennifer Egan was born on this day in 1962. Born in Chicago and raised in San Francisco, she majored in English Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, and decided to become a writer during travelling around Europe in the 1980s.

She has said the isolation and depression she felt during her trip was epitomised by the era of the phone box, before the constant presence of mobile phones and answering machines.

“You had to wait in line at a phone place, and then there weren’t even answering machines. That feeling of waiting in line, paying for the phone and then not only having no one answer, but not being able to leave a message so that they would never know you called.

It’s hard to fathom what that disconnection felt like. But I’m actually very grateful for it. Because it was extreme. And that kind of extreme isolation showed me that I wanted to be a writer.”

During this time of surprising depression and anxiety, Egan said she wrote journal entries during the moments in which, she know realises, she was experiences panic attacks.

Looking back on her journal submissions, she discovered she was writing through her panic, trying to make sense of what she was scared of.

She continues to experiment, dare and innovate...Currently Egan lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and still appears to use writing as a tool to aid herself through life’s more confusing moments.

With her most recent novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, she examines the lives of thirteen barely linked people, in thirteen short stories that make up the collection.

It won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Literature, and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with further critical acclaim from critics and readers alike.

Egan’s notoriety for breaking genre conventions and refusing to stick with one marketable style is easily encompassed within this collection, as she moves from traditional storytelling, to one story completely composed as a power point presentation.

As a writer refusing to conform to any kind of social convention which would allow her to form a steady fan base, she instead moves from idea to idea.

Her first novel The Invisible Circus is arguable her most conventional fiction piece and Egan drew from her travelling experiences for inspiration.

She then wrote Look At Me, a satirical piece about a model that loses her looks in a car accident; then came The Keep, a Gothic piece yet again different from her other works.

Perhaps her most diverse literary experiment came in the form of this year’s short story Black Box. Egan decided to tweet hourly instalments from the piece over a series of ten days, as she was attracted to “the intimacy of reaching people through their phones”.

As you can predict, it divided critics, with some loving the ultra-modern style, and others feeling it too far from the traditional reading experience.

It is incredibly refreshing to find a current author taking such risks with her work, and seemingly for the pure, personal joy of it. So often writers will stick with style or gimmick in order to win a readership and keep it. That is not Jennifer Egan.

Though many readers and critics can’t stand her writing, she continues to experiment, dare and innovate. Happy birthday, Jennifer Egan. Here at For Books’ Sake, we salute you.


  • Alexis says:

    ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ is really good, one of my favourite books of recent years. Reading her short story collection ‘The Emerald City’ at the moment. Happy Birthday, Jennifer!