You can't start a writing career off much better than Dave Eggers did. His first book, the best-selling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A talented and versatile writer, Eggers also cowrote the well-received Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated, a series of interviews with ex-death row inmates who had been exonerted and freed.
It's Eggers's latest work, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a novel based on the life of one of the famous Sudanese "lost boys," that has prompted some controversy. Writing someone else's autobiography, even one clearly labeled as fiction, is a rather, well, novel approach (sorry for the pun), one critics have blasted him for. But he and Deng have defended their decision. After the initial interviews between the two, it was clear, Eggers says, that the story should be told in Deng's voice. But Deng says it was equally clear that he could not write it himself, since he was still learning to read and write English. Instead of an "as told to" format, the two settled on a fictionalized version of Deng's story. Readers and, most importantly, Deng, have been satisfied with the outcome, but a few critics have been sticklers and continue to harp about Eggers's supposed exploitation of Deng. You can make up your own mind when Eggars reads at today's Inprint Brown Reading Series.
Also appearing is Nigerian-born author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who burst onto the international scene with her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, the story of a 15-year-old Nigerian girl caught up in the wake of a military coup. Critics heaped praise on Adichie, calling her a natural storyteller. Her newest work, Half of a Yellow Sun, is also set amid a military struggle, the 1960's Nigerian-Biafran war, and is also earning robust praise. A story of love and loss, Yellow Sun was born in Adichie's family stories. Both her grandfathers were lost in the war. While she was born years later, she says the effect of the war was still very much present in her family. She wrote the book, she says, "because I wanted to engage with my history in order to make sense of my present...because I don't ever want to forget." 7:30 p.m. Cullen Theater, Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-521-2026 or visit www.inprinthouston.org. $5.
Sun., Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m., 2008