Jonathan Safran Foer

Looking for an event that will merge the worlds of your swankified hipster friends and the upper-middle-class philanthropists you left in suburbia? Just venture on down Forbes Avenue and stop in front of that robust William Shakespeare copper thing. Turn left, go through the doors, and stumble across the Drue Heinz Lectures series, the perfect alternative to doing homework that doesn?t make you feel like you?re wasting too much time.

Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated, spoke as part of the Lectures series last Monday, just in time for the film adaptation of his debut novel to hit Pittsburgh theaters. Foer spoke to an audience composed of two major species: ogling young aspirants who barely scraped together the eight bucks to go, and the benefactors whose names appear on the program pages no one reads.

Clad in jeans and a sport coat, Foer, 28, could have passed for a CMU student who had wandered onto stage in a post-midterm haze. Foer?s youth and success create an unusual couple in the literary world, but his bestseller status certainly wasn?t immediate.
After graduating from Princeton with a degree in philosophy, Foer worked a string of jobs ?no Jewish parent would show off about.? It wasn?t until he yielded one acceptance and eight rejections from book publishers that Foer began a career of ?bringing Something into existence? through his novels.

Foer read from Illuminated and his latest novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, for a total of about three minutes; so his 90 minute lecture dealt mainly with Foer?s personal writing habits and approaches. The role of the author, he said, was to ?find words for things that are in us but don?t exist yet because there aren?t words for them.?

?We can?t have emotions if we don?t have a word for them,? Foer explained.

The evening was not without some political commentary from the literary superstar. Citing America?s actions in Iraq, Foer challenged, ?We are doing things that would not be possible if we were looking at them at home,? citing the killing of Iraqi civilians as an example. Balancing these grim comments, though, were Foer?s frequent witticisms. When asked during the Q&A session what he thought of the Illuminated film, Foer replied, ?That?s like asking a dad if he thinks his daughter looks sexy on prom night.?

After the closing Q&A round, Foer sat in the marble-drenched lobby and signed books that were for sale as he mingled with audience members. Fans took their own books with them to get personalized ? that way, they didn?t have to introduce themselves as ?the proverbial poor college writing major? and have the author sign their notes for the college newspaper article on his talk.

With nothing to accompany him but a podium and a bottle of Aquafina, Foer enthralled the Pittsburgh audience with material that proved interesting not only for his fans but for all readers. If this lecture is a sign of things to come, we can expect both more creative masterpieces from Foer and more weekday nights well spent nestled beside Shakespeare.