“A Wake-Up Artist”: Celebrating David Foster Wallace

Little, Brown organized a memorial to and celebration of David Foster Wallace this past Thursday at NYU. It was “not a short program,” as Jonathan Franzen noted, adding, “That would not have been fitting.” It was however, quite moving, and often funny—especially, of course, when people read Wallace’s own writing, whether it was fiction or an essay or a letter or notes to his editor.

Donald Antrim read from "Up Simba." Deborah Treisman read from "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley." Colin Harrison, who assigned and edited some of Wallace’s essays for Harper’s, read from "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All" and “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” and described what it was like “to be cleverly ridiculed in the pages of one’s own magazine.”

George Saunders described Wallace as a “wake-up artist” and a “celebrationist,” and called him “the first among us.” Don DeLillo spoke of “the offsetting breeze of Dave’s plainsong,” all the colloquial phrases that popped up casually but perfectly throughout his writing. Zadie Smith spoke of Wallace’s work as a gift to us that hangs "like Federer’s serve" between its deliverer and its recipient; he wrote a lot about prayer, she observed.

Gerry Howard called Wallace “the most idealistic of ironists.” Michael Pietsch said Wallace’s relationship to language was “one of the great romances of our times.” Bonnie Nadell mentioned that Wallace was going to write about Obama and rhetoric for GQ, leaving many, I’m sure, thinking about all the work that will never be written (what might he have made of Sarah Palin?). Mark Costello, a college roommate and lifelong friend, spoke of “a mind in splendid overdrive” for whom “humor was a bridge to the world.” And his sister, Amy Wallace-Havens, described an imaginary heaven designed just for her brother, where he can always eat Chocolate Pop Tarts and no one ever says he's “nauseous” when he has an upset stomach.

See also: Sarah Weinman, The New York Times, and the AP.


DHLipsky said...

Very strong summary. Quick copy-edit: David Wallace's sister's name is Amy Wallace-Havens.

All best,
David Lipsky
Pen American Center

David Haglund said...

Thanks, David! I'll fix that.

The presidential campaign is clearly getting to me: Nicole Wallace is a McCain spokesperson... Ooops.

DHLipsky said...

Ha. I couldn't figure out why I recognized her name: she's the former newswoman assigned to Sarah Palin... I've been reading about her for days.