How was Dave Eggers feeling a few hours after learning of his Newbery win for The Eyes and the Impossible? “I’m reeling a bit, but mostly I’m catatonic—yes, that’s the word!” he told PW. “I didn’t sleep much last night, so I’ve been wandering around in a real daze. I’ve never felt this way before, and it is surreal.”
When the all-important call came in, Eggers was at his Northern California home with his family, not far from his phone—of necessity. “I have a flip phone that only works in one room in the house, and I have to keep close to hear it,” he said, speaking from that very room. Amanda Uhle, publisher of McSweeney’s, which published The Eyes and the Impossible in partnership with Knopf, had “hinted to me to stay by the phone that day, so that’s where I was when I saw a number with a 312 area code—Chicago—come through, which was really good to see,” the author said. On the line was Amber Creger, chair of the 2024 Newbery Medal Committee, with a congratulatory message.
Eggers then received a second extremely welcome phone call. “It was from a group of very enthusiastic librarians, which is the very best kind of phone call to receive,” he said. The author has a long and strong connection to librarians and teachers. “My mom was a teacher, my sister is a teacher, and I have two friends whose mothers were librarians,” he said. “I grew up surrounded by teachers and librarians, so their approval means a lot to me, and winning this award is really special.”
A Winning Work
Illustrated by Shawn Harris (whose earlier collaborations with Eggers include Her Right Foot and What Can a Citizen Do?) and published by Knopf and McSweeney’s, an independent publisher in San Francisco founded by Eggers, The Eyes and the Impossible explores themes of freedom, friendship, and beauty. The book was released simultaneously as a deluxe wood-bound hardcover from McSweeney’s and a traditional hardcover from Knopf. The editing of the novel was led in-house at Knopf by Melanie Nolan and in-house at McSweeney's by Taylor Norman.
At the center of the story is Johannes, a free dog who lives in an urban park and is tasked with being the Eyes of the park—noticing everything that happens and reporting back to elders, three ancient Bison. His animal friends help him ensure the Equilibrium is in balance, until big changes occur with the arrival of more humans and goats, and a shocking revelation changes Johannes’s view of the world.
The making of The Eyes and the Impossible was put into motion about five years ago, Eggers recalled, when he and Harris sat down at Book Passage in San Francisco to discuss what they might next work on together. “Ever since I was an art student and a graphic designer in my 20s, the concept of the book as an object has been important to me,” Eggers explained. “I had brought Shawn a greeting card that was made of bamboo, and right there we made a pact to make the most beautiful book ever.”
The collaborators worked diligently to make that happen. Harris started right in on the art, “based on some sketches and one-and-a-half notes I had written down,” Eggers said. “Shawn intuits everything and his art is 100 times better than in your dreams. I envisioned the book being double-page color spreads and he created a bath of sumptuous art for readers to dive into. It is not super easy to print all-color, but we found an affordable way to print it and Knopf never questioned our decisions.”
Eggers was unsure what readers’ reactions to his novel would be, since, he explained, “I wanted to write this book in an untethered way. Rereading it now and seeing how strange so much of the story is, I am surprised it made sense to anyone. It’s been long enough since I wrote the book that I can look back with a cold eye—now that the paint is dry, I can see it and am even more grateful for everyone for supporting what is such an unusual book in a lot of ways.”
Despite his initial worries, Eggers was gratified by the reaction of his earliest readers, including his wife, Vendela Vida, friend and editor Amy Sumerton, Norman and Uhle at McSweeney’s, and Nolan at Knopf, who, Eggers noted “was a great supporter and never said no to our eclectic ideas.”
In Eggers’s view, that spirit of cooperation and flexibility was key to the success of The Eyes and the Impossible and its publishing journey. “If you have to compromise, it all starts unraveling, and we didn’t have to compromise at all,” he said. “The book has turned out exactly the way we wanted it from the beginning. It is rare when everything comes together just so, and publishing this book has been an unprecedentedly joyful experience.”