Have you ever had a brush with literary greatness? Maybe you sat across from an author you admire on the train or spotted one of your favorite writers working on their laptop at a coffee shop. For bookish types, these sightings can be better than catching a fleeting glimpse of a movie star on break, a baseball hero at the deli, or a rare albino hummingbird whirring past your window.
When I worked at Princeton University Press, literary sightings were a regular thing due the superstar faculty on campus. Once, I almost literally bumped into Paul Muldoon in the toilet-paper aisle of the local grocery store. At a public lecture, I was thrilled to sit behind Joyce Carol Oates and C. K. Williams and overhear bits of run-of-the-mill conversation.
I know. It sounds stalker-y. But getting to see a hint of a writer’s everyday life can make them feel more familiar and more beloved. These authors, whose poems or essays or novels you spend hours with, are just regular folks who buy Charmin and talk about office parties. (Though, trust me, I’m not angling for Publisher’s Weekly to launch a regular “Authors! They’re Just Like Us!” feature à la People magazine.)
My biggest bookish encounter that never was involved Dave Eggers, a bunch of drinks, and the world’s most tragic missed connection.
Mr. Eggers (Dave? Can I call him Dave?) was on campus giving a reading of his new book What Is the What. Afterward, I stood in line to ask him to sign my copy of You Shall Know Our Velocity and saw that he was chatting with a visiting professor, whom I’d just met the previous week. When it was my turn, the three of us talked for a bit, and Dave suggested I gather some friends from work and meet them at a local pub after their faculty dinner.
I gathered friends fast. We were all in our twenties and it was the height of Eggers Mania. A pack of us — Jeremy, Adithi, Hanne, Heath, Clara, Sophia, more — sprinted to the Alchemist and Barrister at five o’clock sharp, so we could stake out a good table and be ready when our pal Dave showed up. We ordered a round of drinks and freaked out for a while. Then we ordered another round. And another. And you know how things go. By ten o’clock, we were drunk and Dave still wasn’t there, so we decided to settle up and stumble home.
The next day, I got an email from our mutual friend, the visiting professor, saying that he and Dave had gotten stuck at the faculty dinner and had showed up at the Alchemist and Barrister at ten thirty. “Sorry we missed you,” he said.
From the size of my headache that morning, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t get a chance to sit across the table from Dave Eggers the night before. Chances are, my conversation skills wouldn’t have been at their most sparkling. But who knows? Maybe if we’d shared a beer and talked about books, we’d be best friends now, sending each other Christmas cards and Ello invitations.
At least he spelled my name right when he autographed You Shall Know Our Velocity:
What are your best author encounters? Come on, tell us all about them in the comments below!