This year marks the tenth annual Tom Wolfe Weekend Seminar. Sponsored by the W&L Class of 1951 in honor of its classmate Tom Wolfe, the program annually features a writer of contemporary note. Last year's program, "Knowing the World through the Art of Fiction," featured Colum McCann, winner of the 2009 National Book Award for his novel Let the Great World Spin. This year's seminar will feature Jennifer Egan and her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. In addition to the Pulitzer, Egan's most recent novel was a PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, and was chosen by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 Best Books of 2010. Other works by Jennifer Egan include Emerald City, a collection of short stories, and the novels The Keep, Invisible Circus, and Look at Me, a National Book Award finalist.
Described as "groundbreaking" by the Chicago Tribune, A Visit from the Goon Squad focuses on the interwoven lives of several vividly drawn characters linked, sometimes loosely, by the music industry. Through Egan's skillful writing, Goon Squad presents not only a variety of voices and styles but also a time frame of 40 years, from the recent past to the present and even into the future. Each of the novel's 13 characters is featured in his or her own chapter in a range of voices, perspective, and format--Egan even employs a PowerPoint for one chapter. A reviewer in the New York Times wonders " . . . whether this tough, uncategorizable work of fiction is a novel, a collection of carefully arranged interlocking stories or simply a display of Ms. Egan's extreme virtuosity." While each chapter in and of itself is a well-crafted story, the stories within A Visit from the Goon Squad ultimately coalesce into a brilliantly constructed and cohesive work of fiction.
Joining Jennifer Egan in the program are Jasmin Darznik and Christopher Gavaler, both of the English department, who will discuss A Visit from the Goon Squad from a variety of perspectives. Does the unusual format of the book make it "postmodern?" Is it an experiment or a gimmick? What is the "goon" in the Goon Squad, the common adversary of time or loss? And what does the novel say about contemporary life, about the way we live now? Jennifer Egan has said that she took some of her inspiration from Proust's In Search of Lost Time as well as from "The Sopranos." How can we connect these two radically different sources to the novel? The discussion of these questions and more should make for a most stimulating seminar, and Tom Wolfe will be with us througout the weekend.