The tag "philanthropist" is normally given to late-stage tycoons, but novelist/ screenwriter/
McSweeney's founder Dave Eggers is the rare writer who has earned the honorific. He co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for children, and when he won a $250,000 arts award from the Heinz Family Foundation, he gave it all to the center. Similarly, his share of the proceeds from sales of his latest book, Zeitoun, go to support the Zeitoun Foundation, which is helping to rebuild New Orleans.
Zeitoun tells the true story of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun, a New Orleans couple whose lives were upended by Hurricane Katrina. Kathy took the kids to a friend's house in Phoenix in advance of the storm, but Abdulrahman stayed behind, and when 8 feet of water flooded the neighborhood, he paddled the streets in an aluminum canoe, rescuing survivors. That in itself would make an interesting story, but things took a darker turn when Abdulrahman, who immigrated to this country from Syria, was stopped in his rescue work by federal agents, who abducted him on suspicion of terrorism.
Zeitoun drew much critical praise when it was published in June of last year. Writing in The New York Times, Timothy Egan called it "a more powerful indictment of America's dystopia in the Bush era than any number of well-written polemics." It's currently being turned into an animated feature directed by Jonathan Demme and set for release in 2011. Eggers will discuss the book starting at 6 p.m. Seats for the free event are available on a first-come, first-served basis. —Marc Maximov