Eggers & James. Sounds like a new brand of wine cooler, but it’s actually a hot literary ticket in St. Paul.
Author pals Dave Eggers and Marlon James will share a stage Thursday in support of the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, a fanciful mouthful of a name for a creativity focused after-school program. Both of the award-winning novelists are involved with MOI, which helps kids from several schools with homework, and also works with them on cooperative book-publishing projects to inspire a love of creative writing and reading.
The event will help make MOI part of a network of writing and tutoring programs that Eggers co-founded, called 826 National. James, the Jamaican-born Macalester College professor who rocketed to international fame last year when his sprawling historical-fiction opus “A Brief History of Seven Killings” won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, is on the organization’s board and also connects directly with teens enrolled in the program.
James said he and Eggers hit it off instantly when they met after both won a Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2010.
“We’re both geeks at heart,” James said by phone while preparing to leave for a book festival in India. “We met up once at a bar in San Francisco and everyone else was drinking, but Dave brought some markers and paper and we drew maps of fantasy territories because we’re nerds.”
But the Eggers connection wasn’t what attracted James to MOI.
“Quite a few of my good friends here from Macalester are involved,” he said. “Dave wanting to help out is just sort of a bonus. He’s a really giving guy. And we’re both really interested in kids’ literacy and not shy about showing a social conscience.
“These big, successful writers, you’d think they’ve earned the right to be a jerk — well, no one should ever earn that — but I see such generosity of spirit.”
Begun five years ago, MOI was formerly called the Rock Star Supply Co. (They’re big on the quirky, ironic, kid-friendly monikers.) It’s somewhat based on Eggers’ 826 National model, because its founders were inspired after hearing Eggers speak.
With a paid staff of two plus two AmeriCorps volunteers, MOI is a bare-bones operation. It’s working on building a colorful storefront at University and Raymond avenues to make an even more inviting hangout.
Volunteers help neighborhood kids with their homework every Monday through Thursday after school, but writing is the primary focus. Classrooms come in to publish their own books, working with pro writers and illustrators, and each child gets a bound copy of the completed work.
James is helping fifth-grade students create “an aerospace-themed book of fiction” that will be professionally published.
He said he loves working with fifth-graders because “at this age they’re so receptive that their heads just about explode when a new idea comes to them. They’re not jaded yet, and I’m pretty sure none of them will ever ask for my agent’s number.”