The San Francisco based not-for-profit publishing house, McSweeney’s Publishing, was established by Dave Eggers in 1998. It began as a literary journal, Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, of which Eggers was the editor, publishing quality writing that was rejected by other magazines. Today the company not only produces the Quarterly but also operates a daily humour website, publishes The Believer, a bi-monthly arts and culture magazine, and publishes an increasing number of books under various imprints. It has received dozens of awards for its contributions to literature and publishing, and was recently named America’s seventh most innovative media company for proving the value of print publishing through its distinctive writing and design.
Dave Eggers was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1970. His parents, attorney John K. Eggers and school teacher Heidi McSweeney Eggers, sent him to the public high school in Lakes Forest, where he befriended classmate and actor, Vince Vaughn. He developed an interest in journalism, enrolling in the course at the University of Illinois, but his studies were cut short by the tragic death of both of his parents from cancer in 1991 and 1992. Eggers was just 21 years of age at the time; his youngest brother, Christopher, just 8. With his two eldest siblings committed to full-time work and law studies, Eggers took on the responsibility of raising Christopher. He left University, moved to Berkeley, California, began freelance design work for a local newspaper and, with money left to him by his parents, sent his brother to a small private school. Eggers’ first book, A heartbreaking work of staggering genius, released in 2000, recounted his personal struggle to raise Christopher after their parents’ death. It met with widespread acclaim for its originality, quickly becoming a bestseller as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
In the late 1990s, Eggers, together with David Moodie and Marny Requa, founded Might magazine. Might evolved out of the small San Francisco-based independent paper Cups, its humorous articles and essays on issues and personalities of the time earning it a loyal following. The magazine failed to make a profit, however, and by 1997 had ceased publication altogether. It was around this time that Eggers founded McSweeney’s Publishing, producing in 1998 the first issue of Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, to some extent a successor to Might, albeit with a more literary focus. The journal, noted for its inconsistency in format and publishing style, was named after the mysterious “Timothy McSweeney” who had sent unusual letters and notes, including odd pamphlets, train schedules and drawings, to Eggers and his mother. Intrigued by the letters as a child, and curious to know whether their author was related, Eggers kept the letters, eventually naming his journal after the man who had become somewhat of an enigma. As chance would have it, an intern by the name of Ross McSweeney came to work for the publishing company in 2000. He was in fact the nephew of the real Timothy McSweeney, who had been a talented art teacher at Rutgers University and who, overcome by mental illness, had sent the letters to the Eggers family whilst in the care of a mental health institution. With the McSweeney family’s permission, Eggers kept the name for the journal, and all issues since 2000 have been implicitly dedicated to the real Timothy. The full “Timothy McSweeney” story can be read here.
Renowned for its short fictional stories, the Quarterly, has helped to launch the careers of numerous aspiring authors. It has also published works by famous novelists such as Denis Johnson, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, T.C. Boyle, Steven Millhauser and Stephen King. It has been described as the first bona fide literary movement in decades and the flagship literary quarterly, and in 2007 McSweeney’s received the National Magazine Award for three stories published in 2006 – T.C. Boyle’s Wild Child, Susan Steinberg’s To sit, unmoving and Rajesh Parameswaran’s The strange career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan. Authors Anthony Doerr, Wells Tower and Kevin Moffett also won National Magazine Awards for their stories Memory Wall, Raw Water and Further interpretations of real-life events, published in 2010.
In addition to the Quarterly, McSweeney’s also publishes The Believer, a monthly journal edited by Eggers’ wife Vendela Vida, and co-edited by Heidi Julavitis. A five-time finalist itself for the National Magazine Award, it features delightfully bizarre essays, book reviews, interviews with authors, artists, musicians and directors, and letters from readers. McSweeney’s also publishes books under The Believer imprint; some of its most notable titles include Nick Hornby’s The polysyllabic spree (2004) and Tom Bissell’s Magic hours (2012).
McSweeney’s also operates a daily humour website, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, which its editor, Christopher Monks, describes as a “cool place to send funny stuff, and then some other people read it”. Many of the Tendency’s stories do well, generating millions of page-views and drawing visitors’ attention to the fact that McSweeney’s is a magazine and book publisher too. In fact, the company publishes approximately 30 book titles a year, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, humour and children’s books. Recent titles include Information doesn’t want to be free (Cory Doctorow, 2014), The end of war (John Horgan, 2012) and Some recollections of a busy life (T.S. Hawkins with an introduction by Dave Eggers, 2016).
The Library’s collection of McSweeney’s books and journals was donated to Rare Books & Special Collections in 2016 by former University Librarian, Ray Choate. It contains approximately 60 titles, including 46 of the 48 Quarterly issues (no.’s 10 and 40 lacking). Other books in the collection include McSweeney’s mammoth treasury of thrilling tales (Michael Chabon ed., 2002) and Dave Eggers' own The wild things (2009), adapted from Maurice Sendak’s Where the wild things are.
The McSweeney collection of books and Quarterly issues can be accessed in the Rare Books & Special Collections reading room.