Masters Series: George Saunders

George Saunders is the author of eleven books, including Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for best work of fiction in English, and was a finalist for the Golden Man Booker. His stories have appeared regularly in The New Yorker since 1992. The short story collection Tenth of December was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won the inaugural Folio Prize in 2013 (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short story collection). 

He has received MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine

Saunders has taught, since 1997, in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University. His book based on the fiction course he teaches –  A Swim in the Pond in the Rain is MUCH discussed on this podcast, and combined with his very popular Story Club newsletter and community has made him one of THE most lauded writers on writing. His latest book is the short story collection Liberation Day.

Kate spoke to George at the end of his tour of Liberation Day via Zoom in a wide-ranging conversation about his career and writing life. The discussion includes:

  • Tour life including the highlights and the curveballs
  • George’s early experience as a knuckle-puller
  • Early storytelling experiences and the encouragement of one high school teacher
  • How Saunders shrugged off his Hemingway phase and embraced his own voice
  • His first publication acceptance and the celebration that followed
  • What Syracuse University looks for to select the 6 of 700 applications for their Creative Writing MFA
  • Saunders’ letter to his students during lockdown on Cheryl Strayed’s Sugar Calling
  • Kate’s favourite ever Saunders’ interview with Michael Williams for Sydney Writers Festival and the metaphor of story as perfectly formed before we drop it
  • Writing Fox 8 and his resistance to writing a particular scene
  • The art of translation as discussed in A Swim in the Pond in the Rain and Kate’s podcast interview with translator, Stephanie Smee
  • The story behind the writing of ‘A Thing At Work’ and ‘Love Letter’ – two stories in Liberation Day.
  • Success – Kate refers (as she always does) to Christos Tsiolkas’s comments about success which are discussed in the Masters interview with Christos
  • Why and how Saunders is running his Story Club newsletter and why he loves it so much
  • What to do when you fall out of love with writing
  • The tension between being ‘cheerleader for the arts’ and knowing that not everyone will get published

Saunders’ advice to writers:

‘Get in touch with how you revise.’

‘Ask: how do I improve something? Learn to revise and don’t be be afraid of it.’

Saunders debut recommendation:

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

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