When I was trying to decide which “New Yorker Festival” events to cover, the “American Dream” discussion between Jeffrey Eugenides, Jhumpa Lahiri and T.C. Boyle caught my eye. Why, you ask? Primarily because its panelists have Ivy ties, making this post marginally relevant to the topic of the blog. Also, the Ivy League and the American Dream seem to be somehow linked. At least, after spending so much money and emerging with no practical skills, I hope they are.
This discussion took place in what I think was a church on the Lower East Side. Young and old New Yorker fans packed the room to capacity. In fact, there were people standing in line outside the building (this made me feel bad about nodding off a few times during the discussion. But whatever–I was tired.) The moderator, a British guy who probably works for the New Yorker, opened with a joke about how incongruous it was for a British guy to moderate a discussion about the American Dream.
And then the panelists started talking.
Boyle on social mobility:
If the ‘American Dream’ is about about social mobility, I am its exemplar.
Boyle, working-class son and author of World’s End and other award-winning books, modestly admits it wasn’t until he was a junior in college that he “blundered into a creative writing class.”
London-born Lahiri, Barnard ’89, on America:
It’s taken me my entire life to understand and accept that I’m an American.
Lahiri explains that Indians are more exotic in America than in Britain, where they are part of “the fabric of the culture.”
After the jump, Jeff Eugenides, Brown ’83, tells us greed is good and Boyle tells us his pet name for his wife.
When Eugenides joins the discussion 10 minutes late (he was stuck in traffic in the Lincoln tunnel–presumably coming from Princeton, NJ, where he teaches at some college), he says, “Well, I had three hours to think about this.”
The moderator later asks him, “Is the American Dream to have material things?” Eugenides replies:
I think that’s part of what it is
Eugenides answered several questions about one of his latest short stories, which he described as “A story about an embezzler that was also a meditation on Tocqueville.”
But aren’t they all?
Later in the discussion, in an offhand quip, Boyle jokingly refers to his wife as his:
But aren’t they all?
In conclusion, the American Dream is alive and well at The New Yorker.
But lately, not in New York. And maybe not in America.