Jennifer Egan said she never expected her novel, “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
Egan thought it would remain a quick story she wrote as she progressed on to another idea. She discussed the novel — about 13 people whose lives intersect through the music industry — at a Thursday reading hosted by the UT’s Michener Center for Writers. The book won the 2011 Pulitzer for Fiction.
“I got started, thinking I was just going to write down this one idea before going on to another book,” Egan said. “I got really curious about one character mentioned in the first chapter so I wrote another. I wrote a third chapter about someone mentioned in the second chapter.”
Egan couldn’t stop the flow of characters running through her mind, and in a week’s time a draft of 13 loosely bound characters emerged onto a stack of yellow legal pads, she said.
“The book tended to be like catnip for me because it flowed so easily,” Egan said.
When she was finished with the draft, Egan said she believed because of its nonlinear nature, a PowerPoint would help develop it into a final book copy. She said she decided to learn how to work PowerPoint, a technology she was unfamiliar with.
“I drew rectangles on my legal pads waiting for lightening to strike but not much happened so I had to fork over the cash and buy the software,” Egan said.
Egan said PowerPoint allowed her to focus each chapter on main moments in one of the 13 characters’ lives.
“The novel’s a collection of pauses in moments separated by going forward or backward,” Egan said. “PowerPoint is built around that.”
The book that Egan never intended to write quickly earned critical acclaim, said Michener Center director James Magnuson. He listed the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award among the work’s accomplishments at the event, but said the book’s ability to ensnare its audience is possibly more significant.
“Important as the awards that have been bestowed upon this work is the feeling it invokes,” Magnuson said. “It is a great thing to see a book catch fire.”
Magnuson said the book became a conversation piece among readers since its 2010 publication.
Advertising freshman Zoe Cordes Selbin agreed and said Egan’s ability to easily infuse cultural references make the work more believable.
“She does it in a very smart and interesting way,” Cordes Selbin said. “Lots of authors have to try very hard to make cultural references. She does it seamlessly.”
Emily Doscher, an instructor at the Americorps: A Community for Education Center, said she too was enthralled by the novel.
“I read ‘Goon Squad’ and I was like, ‘I’ve got to find out who Jennifer Egan is and see if she’s written more stuff,’” Doscher said. “It was amazing.”