McSweeney’s Quarterly has announced on its website that Timothy McSweeney, the man for whom Dave Eggers named the literary journal, died on Jan. 24 at age 67. In a letter, the McSweeney family wrote that he faced a long struggle with illness.
Dave Eggers came to know Timothy McSweeney as a young boy, through mysterious letters the man sent to Dave and his mother, whose maiden name was McSweeney. According to an essay by Eggers, they began receiving these letters when he was about eight years old, usually notes written on pamphlets and other sorts of mail that required no postage. The messages were confusing, but generally seemed to be written by a man named Timothy McSweeney, who thought he was related to my mother, and who was hoping to visit soon. The young Eggers was intrigued, and kept the letters tucked away in a drawer in his room. Although the man never appeared, Eggers always wondered who the real Timothy McSweeney was.
So in 1998, when Eggers (the future author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) was creating a new literary journal, the name Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern came to him. It made sense on many levels, Eggers says on the website. I was able to honor my Irish side of the family and also allude to this mysterious man and the sense of possibility and even wonder he’d brought to our suburban home.
In 2000, Eggers discovered the true identity of the mysterious Timothy McSweeney. McSweeney once taught art at Rutgers University, but became consumed by alcoholism and mental illness, and was eventually placed under care in an institution for mental health. It was from there that McSweeney sent the letters to Eggers and his mother. From Eggers’ post:
Knowing that the journal bore the name of a real person who had endured years of struggle threw melancholy shadows over the enterprise. But the McSweeney’s insisted that the use of the name was acceptable, even appropriate, given Timothy’s background as an artist and search for connection and meaning through the written word. Since 2000 we’ve implicitly dedicated all issues to the real Timothy.
The first issue of Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern had the mandate of publishing only works that had been rejected by other magazines. Since then, however, it has published writing by authors such as Michael Chabon and Joyce Carol Oates. And according to the McSweeney family, by encouraging and celebrating self-expression, McSweeney’s, its contributors, and its readers already offer the most fitting tribute possible to Timothy’s life.