Cleveland State proudly welcomed acclaimed author Jonathan Safran Foer as part of the first annual Arts and Humanities Alive! Festival (AHA) on Thursday, June 8th. Foer was introduced to a full audience of students, faculty, and members of the community by Bill Kelly on behalf of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.
Many in attendance at the event were familiar with Foer’s work - which includes his debut novel, Everything is Illuminated, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, both of which were adapted into well-received films. Foer, a Princeton graduate, focused mainly on his most recent book, Here I Am, which was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2016. Here I Am, according to Foer, is “a pretty eclectic book.” Here I Am follows the lives of a married couple and their three children living in present-day Washington D.C, and the novel’s events unfold over the span of a month. Overall, it is a story about identity, family, faith, sacrifice, and the emotional distance that is involuntarily created in between.
Charming and articulate, Foer opened the event with a story about a recent trip to Italy for a press tour, and even joked that “Milan is the Cleveland of Italy” - perhaps alluding to Cleveland’s vibrant up-and-coming transformation in the past year. Before reading sections of Here I Am to the audience, Foer spent some time discussing his writing process, and how his most recent novel came to be.
“I write in a very intuitive way,” Foer said. “I like being honest with what I hear, and I never really write the book I originally thought I was going to write.”
Foer’s debut novel, Everything is Illuminated, was stemmed from his senior thesis at Princeton - which closely examined the life of his maternal grandfather, Holocaust survivor Louis Safran. The thesis itself was awarded Princeton’s Senior Creative Writing Thesis Prize, while Everything is Illuminated received the National Jewish Book Award, among other accolades.
“The book [Here I Am] is not so much a sculpture where parts are toppling over,” Foer explained. “It’s like an aesthetic...I like having the artifacts of my own thinking there.”
After reading passages from the novel, Foer answered a few questions about his life, work, and influence on the Jewish community, which were moderated by John Frohnmayer. As the evening drew to a close, Foer was awarded a plaque on behalf of President Berkman to commemorate his participation in Cleveland State University's inaugural AHA Festival, making it a night to remember.