Author discusses his canon, gives advice

Saunders spoke on some of his work and gave advice to aspiring writers.
Saunders spoke on some of his work and gave advice to aspiring writers.

In between winning prestigious awards like the MacArthur Fellowship and the National Magazine Award for fiction, George Saunders has managed to get a little writing done. That is, if one considers “a little writing” to mean seven books, with one to be released next year. Saunders took time out of his busy schedule to read his short story “Victory Lap” to the College at the first Visiting Writers Series event of the semester on Monday, Oct. 22 in the Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall. The SAF-funded event was sponsored by INK and the Writing Communities class.

Before beginning his story, Saunders gave the audience a choice: Should he read his funny piece, or would students be interested in hearing his 180-page history of legumes? It would only take about two-and half-hours to get through, he reassured the audience. Luckily, he chose to stick with his original story choice.

“What does the human mind look like or sound like at any given time?” prefaced Saunders before launching into the tale about Alison, a girl who is kidnapped, and Kyle, her unlikely savior. Over the course of the story the audience is able to enter the head of Alison, a dancer as concerned with her plies as she is with finding a boy; Kyle, a neurotic runner going crazy under the rule of his overly strict parents; and even Alison’s kidnapper.

After completing the story, Saunders answered questions from the audience. “I’ve noticed that the first person to ask a question is usually the one with the most sexual energy,” he joked.

When asked what his best piece of advice for writers is, Saunders quoted Robert Frost: “Don’t worry, work.” Of course, not all of his life advice came from great deceased authors. He also shared some advice on taking criticism from Bill Clinton, who told the admittedly “thin-skinned” Saunders the advice that Hillary Clinton once gave him. According to Clinton, one should always accept criticism and see if any of it is actually true. Saunders added his own advice to this message, saying, “Also, you can hide in your basement. You can stalk your reviewer. That’s really fun.”

A line of excited students formed immediately after the reading, each eager for the chance to get a book signed by Saunders. “I walked in knowing little about him and his work. But I walked out wanting more,” said Matthew Brown, senior English major.

Catie Rosemurgy, associate professor of English at the College, was thrilled with the event. She said that since the Visiting Writers Series started around 2002, students have been lobbying to bring Saunders to the College. Because of this, the event attracted current students and alumni alike.

Rosemurgy hopes that the success of this event will lead to more high profile writers coming to the College in the future.

“People were so excited, I think it was kind of palpable … Somebody’s here who they’re studying in their classes. He’s part of American literature that we study. He’s somebody who is important and is defining fiction practice as we speak,” she said in an interview after the reading.