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Arts & Culture

Dave Eggers on the untethered, creative mind

Author Dave Eggers' latest book, "The Eyes and the Impossible" is shown in an Oct. 4, 2023 photo.
Author Dave Eggers' latest book, "The Eyes and the Impossible" is shown in an Oct. 4, 2023 photo.

In any urban park, you might notice a few wild animals — a squirrel here, a duck there, or some evidence of raccoons — but have you ever imagined a vast network of wild animals coexisting under the radar at your favorite park? And what happens when all the animals conspire together to plan something really big?

Writer Dave Eggers' new all-ages novel, "The Eyes and the Impossible," gives us an insider's perspective on such a park from the point of view of a stray dog.

Eggers is the author of many books — fiction, children's literature, short stories and memoir — and is the founder of McSweeney's, a long-running, award-winning print literary magazine, and also the founder of the educational arts nonprofit 826 National. His debut book, the fiction-tinged memoir "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.


"The Eyes and the Impossible" follows Johannes, a stray dog who kicks off the first chapter by informing readers of how astonishingly fast he is.

Johannes' park has ample wild space, as well as some human-friendly infrastructure like museums, and an enclosure for three bison. The bison are Johannes' friends, and they trust him — along with all the other animals in the park — to keep watch of their vast home.

Writer Dave Eggers is shown in an undated photo.
Em-j Staples
Writer Dave Eggers is shown in an undated photo.

"It's up to Johannes to be the eyes to roam the park, to circle it every day to see that nothing is upsetting the equilibrium of the park. So I think Johannes ... sees himself through that usefulness. His speed. His duties," Eggers said. "I guess that's how I would define him. He revels and exalts in his speed and vision."

For Eggers, discovering and writing in the voice of a stray, wild dog was a welcome and liberating respite after writing "The Every," a 2021 dystopian novel set in a Silicon Valley tech company.

"For me, writing about a tech dystopia, I needed a break and a pivot and I needed a palate cleanser," he said. "This is really the most fun you can have as a writer — is to write from this point of view where you're just unencumbered by a lot of laws, logic, of linearity, of human rules of expression."


In San Diego:
Dave Eggers will discuss "The Eyes and the Impossible" at San Diego Central Library.
7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 9.
330 Park Blvd., downtown. Free.
Details here.

Friendship is crucial to the ecosystem in the park, and the story. Johannes relies on other animals in the way they rely on him — each animal has an ability, or a contribution to the whole, perhaps with a notable, running-joke exception in the ducks. The animals also spend time together and depend on each other for advice, companionship and the kind of bonds formed when co-conspiratorial dreaming is afoot. Again, sans ducks.

"When people actually come through for each other, it gives you great joy. So to me, I allowed these characters and these friends to show up for each other, and save each other and bolster each other, and be noble about it," Eggers said.

Together, driven by their love for each other and for their utmost respect and admiration for the concept of freedom and what it means to be wild, the animals of the park set out to accomplish something seemingly impossible and unfathomably — almost heartbreakingly — generous.

The book also tackles sadness, loneliness, longing and suffering amongst the animals in the park, though Eggers has had to reassure readers that wouldn't touch his book that none of their favorite characters die.

Eggers is no stranger to stories and perspectives that inspire younger audiences. In 2002, several years after starting McSweeney's, he founded 826 Valencia, an educational arts nonprofit in San Francisco that offers one-on-one help with writing for students aged 6-18. In 2008, 826 National launched, taking the model of 826 Valencia to other cities.

A common refrain from the teachers in his life was that they wished for more hours in the day to help individual students. He ran with that idea, gathering together freelance journalists, copy editors, technical writers, etc., into a sort of "clone teacher army."

826 Valencia's working storefront also famously houses a pirate-themed shop — partly creating a retail space for zoning purposes, but also taking the edge and formality out of tutoring. "So the kids all come in, there's no stigma, there's no power, there's no nothing. It's a neutral space for kids that want to work on their writing," Eggers said.

The model thrived. After-school help blossomed into a prolific writing lab and publishing house, and to-date they've published what he estimates to be 5,000 books.

Working with youth has undoubtedly had an impact on Eggers' own writing. It's also no surprise that — like the wild Johannes — feeling unrestrained is at the heart of this experience.

"The main thing that you learn every day is that these books that they write are so unhinged and so ludicrous, and we try to affirm their weirdest ideas. Weird is always celebrated and always accepted," Eggers said. "We always say 'Yeah, yeah, keep going. Yeah, what else,' and I think that when you can introduce the idea of just totally liberated writing that's about fun — we teach story, we teach character development, we teach all the terminology, and that's all baked in — but subject matter, you've got to let the kids drive that and be as weird as they possibly can."