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The David Foster Wallace memorial

October 6, 2008 |  7:00 am

More than three weeks after his death took many fans by surprise, family and friends gathered Saturday for a private memorial service for David Foster Wallace. The L.A. Times' Susan Salter Reynolds was there.

"Tell me a story about how things will get better," David Foster Wallace asked his friend Jonathan Franzen last summer. It was a particularly dark summer for Wallace, mired in a depression that ended, on Sept. 12, in suicide.

Franzen spoke Saturday at a simple memorial service at Bridges Hall on the campus of Pomona College, where in 2002 Wallace was named the first Roy E. Disney endowed professor of creative writing and professor of English.

"He was in a terrible and dangerous place as a man and a writer," Franzen told the writer's friends and family, colleagues and students. "I said I thought his best writing was ahead of him. He said, 'Tell me another one.' "

Wallace had stopped picking up the phone, Franzen said, his voice cracking, and entered a "well of infinite sadness."

The service also featured a testimonial by student Amanda Shapiro, who spoke of the generous comments Wallace left on her work. While most of the literary world knew his novels, essays and short stories, a handful of lucky students knew him as their English professor. (Two have posted the syllabus from his Spring 2005 class, Literary Interpretation, as images and a PDF). On a Pomona College Web memorial, Shapiro wrote, "They're talking about someone, but it's not Dave. It's an abstraction or a stereotype. They're telling a story about a character named David Foster Wallace, and it doesn't have anything to do with the person I and a lot of us knew."

On Saturday, Wallace's editor, Michael Pietsch, recalled the author saying, "People who see me as a golden boy make me feel lonely and alone." Reynolds writes, "All of the speakers remembered Wallace's integrity and commitment to the craft of writing, as well as his desire to be sincere, real and understood."

--Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Eric Chu

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