On a ferry trip to Ellis Island and Liberty Island with his family on a freezing winter day, author and publisher Dave Eggers noticed something he’d never seen mentioned in all the lore about the nation’s most famous statue: She’s in motion, striding off the pedestal, he says, as if she is going to meet new immigrants in the sea.
Inspired by this discovery, and disturbed by the anti-immigrant tone of the 2016 election, Eggers first penned an editorial for The Guardian. Then he turned the idea into his latest children’s book, Her Right Foot, illustrated by Shawn Harris.
Eggers spoke about the book with librarian Sandra Farag, youth materials selector for New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library, as part of the Auditorium Speaker Series at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Denver on February 10.
That day on the ferry, Eggers noted that he was huddled against the cold with hundreds of other riders speaking many different languages, and everyone was having a great time together. He said the experience was the best of what America—“a country of radical welcome”—could offer.
In researching and writing his earlier book What Is the What about the “lost boys” of Sudan, he traveled to many cities in the US where more than 4,000 former child soldiers had been resettled. Eggers found without exception that people embraced them, made them feel welcome, and helped them succeed.
His next book will be another book for children called What Can a Citizen Do?, which, he hopes, will help bring civics education back to kids.
“We forget that being citizens requires something from us, not just entitlement that we’re Americans,” he said. “I was a terrible citizen in junior high and high school. I felt no duty to anybody, I didn’t feel the hand of government in any way. That’s why I feel like I can speak to those kids. But young people love responsibility. They always rise to the occasion.”
In a wide-ranging conversation with Farag, Eggers also spoke about his latest adult nonfiction book, The Monk of Mokha, and about 826 National, the tutoring and creative writing nonprofit he cofounded with Nineve Calegari. The organization, now operating in seven cities, served 32,000 students aged 6–18 in 2017 with hundreds of writing workshops, homework help, zine and chapbook publishing, and even professionally published anthologies of student work.
During the Q&A segment at the end of the session, Eggers was asked how libraries could foster creativity in young people. He noted that 826’s motto is “keep it weird,” and public spaces like libraries should provide space for experimentation and weirdness, and not just for kids. He encouraged libraries to “embrace radical welcome” to feel like home for every age.