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Eugenides: upholding ‘pact with the reader’ key

Author and creative writing professor Jeffrey Eugenides participated in an informal discussion Monday on the inspiration behind his stories, his ever-changing writing style and how his works reflect his inner nature as an author. The discussion was moderated by Professor of English and Comparative Literature Michael Wood.

In response to questions posed by the moderator, Eugenides discussed his decision to become a writer and his early frustration with works that lacked “a basic form.”

“I felt tyrannized by the idea of finding my voice,” he said.

However, accepting the lack of a singular voice has allowed him to “shapeshift” and “put on different masks” when writing, Eugenides said. He added that he also uses a combination of metaphysical and non-metaphysical writing that allows him to break the fourth wall and maintain a “pact with the reader” that is based on sincere communication.

The author also related anecdotes that he argues reveal his second thoughts and constant editing process. Eugenides noted as an example that he once received a copy of his debut novel, “The Virgin Suicides,” that another author had edited. One of the edits shortened the story’s final line and Eugenides later made the change to the paperback publication but subsequently reverted back to the original wording.

“The best criticism tells me about my character and about my means of writing,” Eugenides said.

According to the author, inspiration for his writing comes from a diverse number of sources that include real-life events, ideas posed in other works he reads and “frustration.” However, Eugenides said that he sometimes discovers deeper inspirations.

Though “The Virgin Suicides” was directly inspired by his conversation with a babysitter who revealed that she and her sisters had tried to commit suicide, there were deeper personal relations that motivated the novel, Eugenides said. His childhood in Detroit, where the novel is set, was permeated by a sense of “ephemerality” and “death,” he said, and it was this aspect of himself that is deeply related to and revealed in the novel.

During a question-and-answer session with the audience, the author also gave advice to aspiring writers by telling them that they should avoid distractions, try to write every day and focus while doing so.

Eugenides said he is currently working on a collection of short stories and a screenplay for his latest novel, “The Marriage Plot.”

The lecture took place on Monday at 5 p.m. in McCosh 10 and was sponsored by the Wilson College Signature Lecture Series.

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