RIP: The Man Who Gave McSweeney’s Its Name


When Dave Eggers was a kid, he and his mother would receive strange mail from a man named Timothy McSweeney. Timothy, who was adopted, thought that he was related to them (her maiden name was McSweeney). His letters plotted their reunion. As Eggers explains:

“Sometimes Timothy would include train schedules and other plans. Sometimes they included drawings and diagrams. Usually the letters had a sense of urgency, as if after many years of searching for his relatives, he had found my mother and I, and wanted to reconnect as soon as possible.”

Eggers kept the letters in a drawer in his bedroom and wondered about the mysterious man who sent them. Time passed.

“So many years later, when I was conceiving a name for this literary journal, the name Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern occurred to me. It made sense on many levels. 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.”

It turns out that Timothy was mentally ill and struggled with alcoholism; he sent the letters to Eggers and his mom while receiving treatment inside an institution. When Timothy died on January 24th at 67 years old, his family sent McSweeney’s a letter which contained the following passage:

“As a young man, Timothy was an artist of tremendous talent. The canvases he leaves behind are filled with haunting and beautiful imagery. They are also filled with a palpable desire — to be heard, to connect, to be understood better by others and himself. The letters that inspired this journal’s name were a continuation of that same lifelong effort to more intimately know the world and his place within it.”

The full story of Mr. McSweeney can be read here.