Author to Know: George Saunders

George Saunders is an American writer and professor of fiction at Syracuse University. Specializing in essays, novellas, and short stories, his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeny’s, and GQ. For a short time, he contributed a weekly column to The Guardian. Saunders has won the National Magazine Award for fiction several times (1994, 1996, 2000, and 2004), a MacArthur Fellowship (2006), the World Fantasy Award (2006), the Story Prize (2013), and the Folio Prize (2014). He was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award in 1996, the O. Henry Awards in 1997, and the Story Prize in 2007. His most recent publication—his first novel, titled Lincoln in the Bardo—won the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

This decorated American writer has published five books. His first four, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, In Persuasion Nation, and Tenth of December: Stories were books of short stories; two also included a novella. Lincoln in the Bardo, his 2017 publication and first venture into novel-writing, was an undisputed success; The New York Times wrote, “No one writes more powerfully than George Saunders about the lost, the unlucky, the disenfranchised.”

Saunders is perhaps best known for his stylized voice. His prose is notorious for its distinctive speakers and dialect; the narrators, often involved in the plot, offer first-person perspectives through one of Saunders’ idiosyncratic lenses. His stories offer unique perspectives and hone in on identities we may not generally experience—ghosts from the American Civil War, benevolent murderers, and a man with claws for feet.

First-time Saunders readers should approach his texts with an open mind and critical perspective. Though unique, his stories can suffer at the expense of his use of dialect and narration. As an easy introduction, new readers should pick up CivilWarLand in Bad Decline—Saunders’ first book of essays. Around half of the stories included are truly successful; a stand-out, “The 400 Pound CEO,” is available to read online. Moreover, the novella included in CivilWarLand, titled Bounty, is an excellent example of Saunders’ approach to longer pieces of fiction.