In 2002, Dave Eggers, author of the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, decided that he wanted to help, in some practical way, those of his friends who were struggling with their teaching jobs in overcrowded and underfunded US state schools. They always made the same complaint: there wasn’t enough time to give the children the attention they needed. Eggers hit on the idea of a writing school for inner-city children, a place that would offer one-to-one tuition for anyone who wanted it. He had recently founded the quarterly (in a good year) magazine McSweeney’s and knew young editors, writers and illustrators who were able to help. The best premises he could find for the school happened to be in a shop. The landlord was happy to rent it to him but told him that local zoning laws meant he had to sell things – hence the Pirate Store. 826 Valencia operates as a drop-in centre after school hours; during the school day, teachers bring in classes. The work produced is frequently and beautifully published. But what is really extraordinary is that, very quickly, 826 went national: there are 826s in New York City and Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, DC, Chicago and Seattle, Ann Arbor and Boston. And every centre has a shop. In Brooklyn you can buy everything you need to turn yourself into a superhero, including suckers that really do enable you to climb walls (I eventually had to hide them away in our house); 826 LA provides for all your time-travel needs. What is it that people find so inspirational about the project? Why, all over America, are busy professionals saying to themselves that what they really want to do is to found a non-profit organisation that will require funds, volunteers, grant applications and board meetings for ever and ever?
more from Nick Hornby at The FT here.