Lillian Vernon Distinguished Writer-in-Residence Jonathan Safran Foer met an eager audience this past Friday inside NYU’s glass fish tank, the Rosenthal Pavilion, for a reading of his most recent novel. Safran Foer has been a member of the creative writing faculty at NYU for nearly a decade, and his work has touched the lives of many students. He is the author of several compelling works of literature, including “Everything Is Illuminated,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “Eating Animals.” Foer’s latest work, “Here I Am,” is his first published fiction novel in over a decade.
At his reading, Foer explained that he was inspired to pursue a career in writing after taking an undergraduate writing course with Joyce Carol Oates at Princeton. In regards to his teaching, Foer shared a piece of advice Oates had given him.
“It wasn’t that you should be a writer because writing has value — it was that you should be a writer because you have value.”
In her introduction of the author, creative writing program director Deborah Landau praised Safran Foer’s writing, saying, “[His books] have that quality that he calls ‘muchness.’ They’re big, messy, vibrant and full of life, and that’s why we love them.”
She further noted that Foer “[is] known for his rather unorthodox teaching approaches …There was one spring … when the semester ended but he just kept teaching his class.”
Foer’s lovable enthusiasm was evident as he read from his new book. “Here I Am” tells the story of a Jewish family in Washington, D.C. facing both a domestic and a global crisis. The threat of these simultaneous and parallel crises is the foundation of the novel. The excerpts that he read from his work were characteristically moving and insightful, centered around themes of love, relationships, pain, identity, grief
As Foer read, he mentioned how much he enjoys experimenting with the distance between what the reader knows and what the characters know, such as instances where characters are laughing or whispering about some information outside of the reader’s understanding. His comedic wit and raw sentiment produce a lifelike portrayal of human emotions. The novel’s true depth in the novel shines through sentences like “There are no cures for the hurt that hurts most. There’s only the medicine of believing each other’s pain and being present for it.”
In response to a question on writing about such complex emotions, Foer remarked that “it’s amazing how many questions about writing can be returned as like, ‘how do you do it in life,’ because you do, and often times in writing I’m not relying on some kind of craft or technique that is particular to writing. It is usually a craft or technique that is particular to life and to my experience in life.”
Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Here I Am” is available online and at your local bookstore.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Dec. 5 print edition. Email Alexandra Pierson at [email protected]