Anticipation is tangible before the lights begin to dim. Devout literary followers form processional rows as they head to their seats, holding their books close to their chests in the hopes of getting them signed by the author. Dalton Theater was rife with conversation this past Saturday as students, aspiring writers, and appreciators of literature gathered to listen to acclaimed author Jeffrey Eugenides present as a tour for his newest work, a collection of short stories entitled Fresh Complaint.
Originally from Grosse Point, Eugenides visited K as part of his first tour in Michigan since the release of Middlesex, the critically-acclaimed book that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. Eugenides has written two other novels as well as short stories, most of which are included in the newest collection, all of which have been well received critically. His presence on campus marked an important indicator of the kind of events that can be held in Kalamazoo and reflected an even greater achievement in the growth of local bookstore Bookbug.
Bookbug began in 2008 by one of the founders, Joanna Parzakonis, who introduced Eugenides and recounted the story of her first encounter with his work and audibly reaffirmed the thoughts of the audience members in saying what a monumental opportunity is to have such an amazing author visit the Kalamazoo. The bookstore began primarily focused on children’s books and has since progressed to include all literature, especially works that can be used to give voice to the community of Kalamazoo. In addition, Bookbug works to bring authors to the community for events similar to the one in Dalton.
After his introduction, Eugenides reads a passage from one of his short stories in which the concept of a truthful narrator is toyed with and eventually dismantled. He reads in an accent that mimics the character in the story, plays with the assumption of the reader, or in this case listener, and cuts off for the sake of time, leaving those seated planning for the next moment in which they can return to the narrative.
Western Michigan University English professor and fellow writer Thisbe Nissen then began to discuss with Eugenides a bit about his short stories and the importance of point of view. He jokingly referred to Fresh Complaint as a collection that is deserving to be posthumously released as it is a collection of most of his published stories. He then answered questions from the audience which ranged from inquiries on his personal writing process to more abstract issues regarding the decreasing popularity of literature. Throughout answering Eugenides remained incredibly casual and well spoken, making jokes about his own life and bringing the audience into some of his personal experiences.
To end the event, the audience members were invited to walk onto the stage, have books signed, and talk to the author for a short period of time before the next fans arrived. The event ended in a way which perfectly reflected the mission of Bookbug. As Parzakonis said, Bookbug “belongs to the community and anyone who has art in literature.”
The event brought together members of the community to speak about issues regarding literature with an author who was willing to bridge the gap between writer and audience. Everyone left with a better sense of identity in a community that places importance on, according to Eugenides, the single form of media that allows the creator to display consciousness, writing.