Literary Heroes, Continued: David Foster Wallace

It would be a fair assessment to say that I’m an odd individual.  Since I’m a writer, I suppose that’s a good thing.  In fact, it may even be part of the reason I started writing in the first place.  However, life is not always user-friendly for the odd people of the world.  Because of this, I always appreciate stumbling across a particularly off-beat writer.

I can’t say with any authority that David Foster Wallace was an odd person.  I do think, though, that his writing was, and continues to be, refreshingly bizarre.  I first came across his work about eight years ago, when I picked up a copy of Infinite Jest at Building 19.  (For the record, that book takes the cake for coolest thing I’ve ever found at Building 19.)  Despite the fact that the book contained about a hundred pages of footnotes and was so gargantuan that I had to read it sitting at a table, I was hooked right away.  It wasn’t only the unusual style that appealed to me, but also the mastery of craft he displayed in his writing.  His work often contradicts every craft book I’ve ever read, but he was skilled enough to pull it off.  Genius and bravery is a potent combination when it comes to writing.

Knowing that David Foster Wallace was out in the world, writing, made me feel less alone.  There are times when I question my “starving artist” lifestyle.  I know that some people in my life who would rather I settle down with a house and some kids, or start earning a six-figure salary.  Reading books like Infinite Jest makes me brave enough to just be me.

On the night that David Foster Wallace hung himself, I was returning from a slam poetry event with some friends.  It was early morning by the time we got home, and one of the people I was with came across the article on an internet news feed.  I cried like he was someone I knew.  It felt strange to be so devastated by the death of a stranger, but I guess that’s the thing with heroes.  It isn’t about whether we affect them, it’s about how they affect us.

I was unprepared for David Foster Wallace to die so young, with so many stories left untold.  However, I’m grateful for the ones that made it into print.  I was reading my copy of Infinite Jest at a bar one night, and a guy came up to me and said that he could tell which book I was reading by the number of times I flipped back to the footnotes.  The thing about David Foster Wallace is that he’s kind of a cult classic.  Not everyone I meet knows who he is, but when I meet someone who does, I feel connected.  I am an odd individual.  But I’m not the only one.


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