Jeffrey Eugenides: writer and modernist romantic
Author of the much-loved novel-turned-film The Virgin Suicides Jeffrey Eugenides lets fans into his literary world
Despite his success, American author Jeffrey Eugenides seems to have a habit of drawing out new releases, taking on average nine years between each major book release.
Best known for his first two novels, The Virgin Suicides (1993) and Middlesex (2002), the author released his most current book, The Marriage Plot in 2011. He was in Melbourne last week as part of a tour around Australia, which began at the Sydney Writer's Festival.
A running theme during the night was how different parts from the author's life seem to insert themselves into his stories.
Born in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan, the author comes from a Greek-Irish descent. His Greek grandparents, who were silk farmers somewhere in Asia Minor, somehow managed to receive a passing mention in The Marriage Plot, where a Greek-American character from Detroit, who, like Eugenides, studies English at university and just happens to have been studying about silk farmers in Greece.
Speaking with Wheeler Centre director Michael Williams, Eugenides quickly relaxed on stage, perhaps testament to his pre-teen dream of becoming an actor.
"My parents were horrified when I said I wanted to be an actor. They responded well when I said I was going to be a writer at 16 though, they must have thought writing was somehow a better choice," he quipped.
Currently moonlighting as a creative writing professor at Princeton University, Eugenides also regaled the audience with tales from his college days. He described how he started his studies at Brown University with only a vague idea that he wanted to be a writer because of his romantic notions of what life as an author will be like.
"I was there because I wanted to be a writer and I had some kind of mercenary idea that I needed to learn how."
The writers' wisecracks and general sense of humour is as evident in real life as it is in his writing. Describing a time at university where he realised his peers were all socially inept, threadbare cardigan-wearing bookworms, he said, "I realised I must be hopeless too, because these were my people."
Bookworm or not, Eugenides clearly made the right choice by becoming an author. The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex have both won the prestigious Pulitzer prize. Admitting he currently has five unfinished books that he may or may not continue working on, literary fans can only hope it will not take the talented author another nine years to come up with his next novel.
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