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Writer and activist Dave Eggers to give lecture at Duke

Duke students know What is the What—Dave Eggers’ novel was the Class of 2012’s summer reading. Two years later, Eggers will again be a campus topic of conversation.

Next Wednesday Eggers will give the 2010 Weaver Memorial Lecture, co-sponsored this year by Duke University Libraries and the Duke Human Rights Center. Additionally, Eggers will teach an undergraduate class Thursday morning.

“Eggers is someone who I think will really resonate with a lot of Duke students, because Duke as an institution as a whole has really been focusing its gaze outward over the last few years and really looking to see what we can do out in the world for people,” said Aaron Welborn, director of communications for Duke University Libraries.

A veteran of many different styles, Eggers has written six previous books, including his autobiographical debut A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and co-authored the screenplays for Away We Go and Where the Wild Things Are. He is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house, and cofounder of 826 Valencia, a national writing and tutoring nonprofit.

The author’s talk will center on his 2009 bestseller Zeitoun. A work of nonfiction—written without the postmodern quirkiness which contributed in part to Eggers’ fame—Zeitoun presents the effects of Hurricane Katrina on Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family. The account is made more complex by Zeitoun’s status as a Syrian-Muslim immigrant in post-9/11 America.

All profits from the book go toward the Zeitoun Foundation, which was established by Eggers, the Zeitouns and McSweeney’s in order to aid in the rebuilding of New Orleans and promote human rights.

A condensed version of the story, narrated by Zeitoun himself, first appeared in Voices from the Storm, part of the Voice of Witness project co-founded by Eggers and physician and human rights scholar Lola Vollen. The goal of Voice of Witness is to advance human rights through oral history, according to the nonprofit’s website.

The Duke Human Rights Center’s Pauli Murray Project is similar to Voice of Witness, said Robin Kirk, executive director of the Duke Human Rights Center. Through the project, the DHRC aims to collect and feature the stories of Durham and its history, she added. This is the first year the Center is co-hosting the Weaver Memorial Lecture.

“He’s a really interesting writer who has written on human-rights themes, but from a very creative perspective,” Kirk said.

The lecture—which was established in 2002—honors William B. Weaver, Triniy ’72 and a founding member of the University’s Library Advisory Board. Previous lecturers have included Oliver Sacks and Barbara Kingsolver.

“This is someone we think will really speak to a lot of Duke students and a lot of people at Duke right now, because of... his interest in building things that last and that matter, not just writing books, even though he’s really good at that, too,” Welborn said.

The Thursday following the lecture, Eggers will teach a class, the details of which the DHRC intends to release in an e-mail to students within the next few days. Undergraduates from all areas of study are eligible to sign up for the course, Kirk said.

Dave Eggers will speak at Page Auditorium at 6 p.m. Nov. 10 and teach an undergraduate class Nov. 11 from 9 to 10 a.m. Tickets for the lecture are free and will be distributed at the door.

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