Authors Marlon James, left, a Macalester professor who recently won the Booker Prize, and Dave Eggers got together for a fundraiser for the MOI youth writing program. Photo by Adam Iverson.

"You've been reading since you were five?" a pointedly incredulous Dave Eggers asked fellow author Marlon James from the stage at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul Thursday night."Hmmm, so you say. I was finger-painting at five, with one finger up my nose."

Trading friendly jibes and revelations on their work and backgrounds, the two literary powerhouses had joined forces to raise money for the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI), a tongue-in-cheekily named creative writing and homework help program for Twin Cities youth. Eggers co-founded 826 National, a network of several similar locally funded programs around the country, and hopes to add MOI to the fold.

It's off to a promising start. Less than five years ago, MOI served 75 kids, and that figure is up to 1,200 this school year, said Chad Kampe, director of the program, which relies mostly on volunteers and donations. Three fifth-graders also briefly took the stage to read from stories they wrote during MOI activities. Eggers showed he has a way with kids, even when guilty of asking them leading questions "Sorry, I'm doing it again," he said, smiling.

James, who just returned from a book festival in India, talked about his uneasiness with sudden celebrity status he has achieved in countries once part of the British empire after winning Britain's prestigious Man Booker prize. The day after a series of frustrating airport-arrival experiences, he awoke to find his picture splashed across tabloids,which over a series of days changed the tenor from "James hates India" to "James overwhelmed by India" to "James changes mind about India," he said.

After pointing out that James, an English professor at Macalester College, is the first Jamaican to win the Booker, Eggers said, "More importantly, he's the first Minnesotan."

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