Jeffrey Eugenides, author of “The Virgin Suicides” and Detroit native, spoke at Wayne State on Oct. 24 as part of the Department of English’s Open Field Reading Series. This event was put on in cooperation with Pages Bookshop.
Eugenides planned to read from his collection of short stories, “Fresh Complaint,” but instead fielded questions from the audience due to microphone complications.
Eugenides briefly spoke about the importance of his short story collection, which was published in paperback in October 2017.
“The book (‘Fresh Complaint’) for me is almost like a journal where I’ll read it and think about what I was like and what I was going through,” Eugenides said. “Some (stories) are completely made up and some are closer to home.”
During his discussion with the audience, Eugenides touched on his writing process, source of inspiration and advice for young authors.
Eugenides’ father went to WSU on the GI Bill and his brother also attended WSU before transferring to the University of Michigan.
Natalie Bakopoulos, author and WSU assistant professor, first read his book “The Virgin Suicides” in graduate school, she said.
“He was a Detroit writer with a Greek name like mine, writing about a city I knew well,” Bakopoulos said. “We are universally transported through his work. His work defies binary thinking in a literal way."
“The Virgin Suicides” — one of Eugenides’ most popular books — is set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The book follows the mysterious suicides of the five Lisbon sisters. It is told through the point of view of anonymous teenage boys who are looking for an explanation to their deaths.
Eugenides’ writing draws inspiration from many authors, he said. In college, he started reading experimental writers like James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon and Phillip Roth.
“It’s always changing who I like and who’s helping me write,” he said. “Writers should not be worried, you have to take risks and see what happens.”
When developing characters, Eugenides builds them off of pieces of himself and people that he knows, he said.
“I’ve always had a very confused identity,” Eugenides said. “It’s easy to be other people when you don’t know who you are.”
Eugenides does not ask people for permission when he is basing a character off of them but will make calculated decisions based on people’s likelihood to take offense to his depiction, he said.
“It’s pretty easy to write about the guy you hate at work and get away with it,” Eugenides said.
Eugenides’ books are character-heavy because that’s what he enjoys reading, he said. He uses his characters to study different aspects of identity and human nature.
“We want to encounter a large range of characters in what we read,” Eugenides said. “I didn’t go into this job because I wanted to write about myself. I wanted to explore different characters and egos.”
One tip he offered to aspiring authors was to write close to what is happening in your life, Eugenides said.
“You can’t write too far from your own experiences,” Eugenides said. “There has to be some connection between literature and life.”
Eugenides also said that writers must believe in their own work.
“The hardest thing to do when you’re writing is believing what you write,” Eugenides said. “If you don’t believe it the reader won’t.”
Jack Filbrandt is arts and entertainment editor of The South End. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cover photo by Jack Filbrandt.