In front of a crowd of English nerds and lit fans, Pulitzer Prize – winning author Jennifer Egan gave a lecture on her process of creative writing and research. Egan discussed her latest and fifth novel, Manhattan Beach, going into how she was inspired to write it. She ended the lecture by reading a segment of the first chapter of the book.
This event was put on by the English department and was a part of the Stieren Arts Enrichment Series, made possible by an endowment gift from the late Arthur Stieren.
While surrounded by people of all ages in the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall, I felt as if I was the only person unfamiliar with Egan’s work. I had never heard of “Manhattan Beach,” “Invisible Circus,” or even her award-winning novel, “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” Despite this, I came ready to be enlightened and inspired to add a few more books to my reading list.
I noticed that most people in the audience had their dog-eared copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad in their laps. It blew my mind to hear that she had written each of those chapters from a different perspective with a new character. I flipped through the book and saw powerpoint slides, for crying out loud.
It was also fascinating to see how much time she put into her latest work. Over ten years of research and writing went into “Manhattan Beach.”
Egan told the audience that she almost always starts a story by thinking of a time and place, and the characters usually come after that.
The time for “Manhattan Beach” was the second World War and the place was Brooklyn.
Egan showed us vintage war photos she had found in the early 2000s of the Brooklyn Navy Yard back in the day. She delved into the stories she discovered at the nearby archives, showing us how different the lives of New York women and men were at that time. Egan told us about the love letters she found, and how she fell in love with their personalities and stories.
She also showed us pictures from her own childhood and of her family, saying how her grandpa’s job as a police commander influenced her fascination with mystery and crime.
Egan continued the lecture by reading a chunk of her opening chapter in “Manhattan Beach”.
I’m not much of one for aural story-telling — I get easily distracted when I have to focus on something without a visual aspect. However, Egan had me hooked.
She was a great story teller and kept me engaged. I knew this must have been particularly impactful for the students and adults who love Egan and her work.
To hear your favorite author read a part of her collection that you’ve cherished for years, that’s not something that happens a lot. Especially after you hear how much passion she has behind the research and background of her stories, you are bound to be entranced by her story telling.
Thank you to the English department for putting this on and giving so many Trinity students the chance to meet such an interesting, renowned author. Thank you to Jennifer Egan for treating us all to an entertaining and informative talk.
And most of all, thank you to Jane and Arthur Stieren for deciding way back when that the arts are worth investing in.