Literary Fashionables: The Performing Artist and The Humanitarian


Fashion Week in New York has come to a close. And so therefore must our week-long run of literary fashionables.

We end our series with The Performing Artist and The Humanitarian. Miranda July and Dave Eggers are both noted for being torchbearers of their generation, a generation for the members of which one career, along one well-defined path, is not enough. While both July and Eggers have made strong contributions to the literary community, their talents continuously reach out  into other disciplines and areas of interest. For these reasons, we find them particularly fascinating as literary specimens and a good pair on which to end this series. We hope you’ve enjoyed.


Assignment #15: Hang a windchime on a tree in a parking lot.

Assignment #34: Make a protest sign and protest.

Assignment #53: Give Advice to yourself in the past.

These are three out of seventy available assignments that writer/filmmaker/performing artist Miranda July provided to the general public on her website. They’d do it and send in the assignment. Accordingly, on the website you will see men in rabbit suits, posters of shadows, and many young women flipping their hair in an effort to recreate a photograph posted on the site. The assignments are part of a project that July ran from 2002-2009 called Learning to Love You More. She used some of the work in presentations that were shown in galleries and museums around the country, and published a book by the same name collecting some of the work. The idea behind the project, according to July, was that “you could go so much further if you were told what to do.” She was trying to help people get out of a “stuck place.”

For those familiar with July’s work, this won’t seem unusual. One of her films, Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody, which came out on Wholphin #1 (see The Philanthropist, below), has an actor asking strangers “Are you the favorite person of anybody?” One of her performance pieces, “Love Diamond” features a woman on an airplane circling an entity called the Titan, which is a planet, a monster, and a very sad man following her. And in one of her short stories in the collection No One Belongs Here More than You a woman gives swimming lessons in her kitchen.

The ideas for July’s pieces seem to be an outgrowth from her childhood in Berkeley, California where she spent a lot of time alone walking around, observing people and making things up. She started writing plays and acted them out at an all-ages club. Later, she’d go to UC Santa Cruz and drop out her sophomore year, but she’s never had to work a day job since she was 23 years old. The stories in No One Belongs Here More Than You first appeared in The New Yorker, Zoetrope and McSweeney’s among other notable magazines. Her film Me and You and Everyone We Know won the Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for best feature for a first time director. She’s shot videos in her bedroom that were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney Bienniale. It’s her detached, personal and probing style that has garnered her many fans, of which Spike Jonze is one, including some who say she’s captured the voice of her generation. This literary fashionable is, I’m sure, the favorite person of many people.


Dave Eggers does many things. And does them well. He runs the McSweeney’s empire, which publishes one of the most coveted and collected of literary journals Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern,  an internet humor site, the DVD magazine Wholphin, which publishes hard-to-find films, and the non-fiction magazine The Believer, all of which bear a look and feel that is immediately identifiable as “McSweeney’s.” The term has come to represent a literary brand known as much for its unique artful presentation as it is for its literary excellence.

But this is all stuff we already know. As is this: Eggers is the author of many highly praised books, one of which, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and documented the raising of his younger brother after the death of both of his parents.

While all of the above makes Eggers a literary fashionable, it’s his humanitarian work with his organization 826 Valencia that puts him one notch above. In 2002, he co-founded the writing and tutoring center for kids in San Francisco, which also gives kids skills in writing and publishing, and offers workshops and lectures by professional writers and publishers. Since its founding, 826 has opened seven locations around the country, each with its own characteristic storefront. At New York’s Superhero Supply Store you can pick up a forcefield generator, a glitter cape and an ardvark formula that enhances every type of magnetism–including animal magnetism. For his work with 826, Eggers was a TED recipient in 2008. His TED Talk is great. You can watch here. Utne Reader has also named him one of “50 Visionaries Changing the World.” There’s also been a fair amount of Eggers around the Rumpus. You can read his words on the last book he loved, take in a Rumpus long interview with him, or even an interview with one of the artists Eggers works with frequently, Marcel Dzama. Dave Eggers is one of the most dynamic, giving and influential cultural figures of our time–not to mention the hands-down most fashionable of literaries.

Related Posts:

Literary Fashionables #1: The Absurdist and The Word-Portraitist

Literary Fashionables #2: The Cultural Theorist and The Sportsman

Literary Fashionables #3: The Junky and The New Journalist

Literary Fashionables #4: The Showman and The Muse

Rozalia Jovanovic is a founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is The Rumpus New York Editor. More from this author →