Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen

Past Event: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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Literary Arts

On Autobiography & Fiction-Writing: An Evening with Jonathan Franzen
Author Jonathan Franzen investigates the personal dynamics of fiction writing by addressing four perennial questions that novelists are asked: Who are your influences? What time of day do you work and what do you write on? Do your characters “take over” and tell you what to do? And, is your fiction autobiographical?

Jonathan Franzen grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, afraid of “spiders, insomnia, fish hooks, school dances, hardball, heights, bees, urinals, puberty, music teachers, dogs, the school cafeteria, censure, older teenagers, jellyfish, locker rooms, boomerangs, and popular girls.” Franzen shed his fears as he grew up, and after graduating from Swarthmore College in 1981, he studied in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar and later worked in a seismology lab at Harvard. In his memoir, The Discomfort Zone (2006), Franzen explores the influence of his childhood and adolescence on his creative life. After college, Franzen married a fellow classmate and writer and begin a quiet, isolated domestic life dedicated to reading and writing. They eventually divorced, but the method of isolation remained integral for his writing. Franzen often worked in the dark, with the blinds drawn, wearing earplugs, earmuffs, and a blindfold.

Jonathan Franzen published his first novel The Twenty-Seventh City in 1988; his second, Strong Motion, in 1992. His third novel, The Corrections, received the National Book Award for fiction, was an international bestseller with translations in 35 languages and American hardcover sales of nearly one million copies. Lev Grossman in TIME magazine called the books “a symphony of Midwestern, middle-class mental suffering that conveys depression and anxiety more entertainingly and eloquently than almost any book I’ve ever read…which instantly made Franzen the premier literary novelist in his age bracket.” In response to the attention and acclaim The Corrections received, Franzen responded with his inspiration for the novel: “The most important experience of my life, to date, is the experience of growing up in the Midwest with the particular parents I had. I feel as if they couldn’t fully speak for themselves, and I feel as if their experience—their values, their experiences of being alive—of being born in the beginning of the century and dying towards the end of it…I feel as if I’m part of that and it’s part of me.”

Franzen is also the author of a bestselling collection of essays, How to Be Alone (2002). He recently published a new translation from German of the play Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind. His short stories and essays have appeared in The New YorkerThe Best American EssaysThe New York Times, and The Guardian. He was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. His other honors include a Whiting Writers Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. The Times of Londonnamed The Corrections as one of the “100 Best Books of the Decade.” Franzen lives in New York City and Boulder Creek, California. His most recent novel, Freedom, was published August 2010.

Selected Work 

The Twenty-Seventh City (1988)
Strong Motion (1992)
The Corrections (2001), recipient of National Book Award for Fiction, New York Times Best Books of the Year, Salon Book Award (Fiction), Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist
Freedom (August 2010)


The Discomfort Zone (2006)
memoirHow to Be Alone (2002), essays

Emily Eakin on The Corrections, and Franzen’s process (New York Times, September 2001) 
Short Story: Breakup Stories (The New Yorker, November 2004)
Short Story: Are We There Yet? Countdown (The New Yorker, April 2005)
How Jonathan Franzen Learned To Stop Worrying (Sort Of) (Time, August 2006)
Jonathan Franzen’s National Book Award Acceptance Speech (National Book Foundation, 2001)
Jonathan Franzen interview with Donald Antrim (Bomb Magazine, Fall 2001)
Audio interview with The New Yorker’s Deborah Treisman, “Sound of No Birds Singing”

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


SAL is for everyone. We want all audience members to be able to experience our lectures and readings regardless of accessibility concerns. Accessibility services at our venues are provided at no cost to ticket holders. If you find you need to sit closer to the stage to accommodate your needs but find the cost of a Patron ticket prohibitive, then please contact us—we will seat you where you need to be, regardless of cost.

Open Captioning occurs at every event that takes place at Benaroya Hall. It is also always available upon request for all events in our other halls, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for Open Captioning services, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Assisted Listening Devices, including Hearing Loop Assisted Listening Systems, are available at all of our venues, with the exception of Broadway Performance Hall. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

ASL-Interpretated Events are always available upon request, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for ASL interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Wheelchair Accessible Ticketing is available in all sections at our venues, and and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

For any further questions or requests, or to offer Seattle Arts & Lectures feedback on how we can be more accessible and inclusive, please reach out to our Patron Services Manager at or 206.621.2230×10.