Last night, writer Jonathan Franzen visited Carnegie Music Hall to present a nearly packed house with a "craft talk."
That was how Franzen described his appearance at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' Monday Night Lectures. The acclaimed author of The Twenty-Seventh City (1987), The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2009) is also a dedicated bird-watcher who didn't waste time mentioning the donation of his speaking fee to the American Bird Conservancy.
Those familiar with Franzen's work would have found recurring themes of media, technology and over-stimulation unsurprising. Partially veiled confessions of his insecurity as a writer, however, were striking — especially after three best-selling novels, gratuitous awards nominations and a Time cover photo.
He explained the necessity of apprehension for creating meaningful narrative. "Each new novel should represent personal struggle," he declared.
"If the writer doesn't face some kind of insurmountable challenge during the creative process, he cannot create a worthy literary experience. Literature cannot be mere performance."
Franzen emphasized the idea of loyalty to oneself as a writer, and the notion that effective literature depends on the writer's willingness to dig beyond unsettling self-analysis. Sometimes, it can constitute a degree of "betrayal" against loved ones and those whose lives are drawn on for inspiration.
But he assured that this concerted effort, demanding of writer and reader, ultimately served both by dismissing any invitation for a passive read. "We need writers who will create more opportunities for introspection," he pled.
At the conclusion of his speech, an audience member asked the author what kind of advice he had, particularly, for young writers. Franzen pointed to the young man and said, "I need you to be a good writer."