Creativity 50 2011: Jennifer Egan

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Want to flex your creativity muscles? Try writing a plot summary for Jennifer Egan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad," the not-quite-a-novel published in 2010 that won her the Pulitzer prize for fiction (and a long list of other accolades). It's not easy. Even Ms. Egan said she's not quite up to the challenge of summarizing it. As she told Amazon.com's Ominvoracious podcast, she said if forced to, she'd tell people. "I'm having a lot of fun, but it's really hard to describe."

And her process might be hard to fathom for some in the digital age. Ms. Egan still writes fiction with pen and paper. "Fiction involves a kind of physical release of material that I can't seem to get to if I'm looking at it in type on a screen." Even one of the later chapters of the book, presented as a PowerPoint slideshow, she initially wrote by hand. That's not to say she's averse to tech: She uses computers for nonfiction and actually built a version of her fictional slideshow on her website using Slideshare. "Goon Squad" has been optioned by HBO for a TV series. How that will turn out is anyone's guess. As Ms. Egan told The New York Times, "when you option rights to your work, you really have to be ready for anything. . . . You're giving someone the right to build their vision on yours, but I do think you have to let them have their vision."

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