National best-selling author and journalist Jennifer Egan visited the Upper School on Monday, October 21, to discuss her writing inspirations; the research, drafting, and revision processes; and her novel Manhattan Beach, winner of 2018’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Egan is this year’s visiting author — on campus to speak to Upper School students and faculty from both Brunswick and Greenwich Academy, all of whom read Manhattan Beach this past summer as a prelude to discussion and written exploration in English classes.
She joins the recent ranks of John Irving, Column McCann, Wes Moore, and Colson Whitehead as distinguished and award-winning writers who’ve visited and had their work featured at Brunswick.
Egan relived the extensive research, interviews, and experiences that helped shape her World War II-era historical novel and the characters in it — and that also took her to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and out to sea with members of the Merchant Marine Academy.
“My portal into a story is always a time and a place — a sense of atmosphere,” Egan explained.
“What gets the best work out of each of us is that sense of approaching something that feels very alive for reasons we may not even know.
“That’s really what I need to get started.”
And when she did sit down to write in 2012, she filled 25 legal pads with (at times) indecipherable handwriting during the course of 18 months — five to seven pages per day.
“For me, fiction, especially a first draft, is a little bit like having a dream,” Egan said. “I’m writing without really knowing what I’m writing.
“I’m looking to connect to my unconscious — to the side of me that is not analytical — and to surprise myself with ideas I probably couldn’t think of consciously.”
Not until Egan has revised “infinitely” does she have a completed chapter or novel.
“For me, writing is rewriting. Only in the revision do I ultimately shape what I’ve written into something readable and hopefully enjoyable.”