Author's Tweets Give New Meaning To Short Fiction

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan tweeted a science fiction story from the New Yorker fiction Twitter account (@NYerFiction) this week. In the story, Egan takes a character from her novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, and sets her in a futuristic world in which she is a female spy. Host Scott Simon talks with Egan about the first time The New Yorker has serialized fiction on Twitter.

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Thursday night, dispatches from a glum future began to appear on the Twitter account of The New Yorker magazine's fiction department - a science fiction story, told sentence by sentence, tweet by tweet, a story about Jennifer Egan titled "Black Box." It features a character from her 2010 novel "A Visit from the Goon Squad" which won the Pulitzer Prize.

That character, Lulu, is now a spy working for the government several decades later. Jennifer Egan joins us and in the spirit of the Tweet form we're going to conduct this interview in 140 seconds. Thanks for being with us.

JENNIFER EGAN: Thanks for having me on the show.

SIMON: Is this just a gimmick or a chance to experiment?

EGAN: I hope it doesn't read as a gimmick. It was an idea that I had for a really long time and I love the fact that you're reaching someone in this very intimate personal device and yet it's also very public. So the question is what sort of storytelling would require both? And I began to have this sense of a spy recording dispatches of her experience.

SIMON: Can we read a few tweets, if you please?

EGAN: Sure.

SIMON: Here's one that just stopped me: The first 30 seconds in a person's presence are the most important. The form can be poetic.

EGAN: The hope was that these pieces have a certain power individually that they don't even necessarily have all together.

SIMON: And for people not familiar, I mean, you cannot exceed 140 characters.

EGAN: No. Which is one of the interesting things about Twitter. I love the severity of those restrictions. I think it can be really interesting to be forced to work in a very small space and just see what happens.

SIMON: And here's one I read last night; I haven't stopped thinking about it. If you were a child who loved the moon, looking at the moon will forever remind you of childhood.

EGAN: The idea is that she's making these observations on the action of the story, although not directly. The idea is that she's trying to learn a lesson from each thing that happens and we're reading the lessons that she learned, but what begins to happen, of course, because in a sense these are just her reflection, is that personal material begins to intrude little by little into this very businesslike account.

SIMON: I remember reading in one Dickens biography that when Dickens would serialize one of his what we know now as novels, he often didn't quite know where he was going. Was that the case with you writing these tweets?

EGAN: Absolutely. Although when I didn't know where I was going was of course long ago. To really be as daring as Dickens I would have to be writing tonight. Right now. That is certainly not the case.

SIMON: So far there's not a Pulitzer Prize for a Twitter stream, is there?


EGAN: Well, you never know.

SIMON: Well, we can hope. Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. The third installment of her new short story, "Black Box," will begin tonight on the Twitter feed of The New Yorker's fiction department. Jennifer, thanks for being with us.

EGAN: My pleasure. Thank you.


SIMON: This is NPR News.

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