Saunders, George 1958–

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SAUNDERS, George 1958–

(George W. Saunders)


Born December 2, 1958, in Amarillo, TX; son of George Robert (a federal employee) and Joan (a federal employee) Saunders; married; children: two. Ethnicity: "Mongrel Caucasian." Education: Colorado School of Mines, B.Sc., 1981; Syracuse University, M.A., 1988. Religion: "Former Catholic, current Buddhist."


Home—Syracuse, NY. Office—Department of English, 413 Hall of Languages, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244. Agent—Esther Newberg, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019. E-mail[email protected].


Radian International (environmental engineering firm), Rochester, NY, technical writer and geophysical engineer, 1989-96; Siena College, Loudonville, NY, adjunct professor, 1989; Saint John Fisher College, Rochester, NY, adjunct professor, 1990-95; Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, visiting professor, 1996-97, assistant professor of creative writing, 1997—. Visiting writer at Vermont Studio Center, University of Georgia May Mester Program, University of Denver, University of Texas at Austin, St. Petersburg Literary Seminar (St. Petersburg, Russia), Brown University, Dickinson College, and at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. Previously worked in Sumatra on an oil exploration geophysics crew, as a doorman in Beverly Hills, a roofer in Chicago, a convenience store clerk, a guitarist in a Texas country-and-western band, and a knuckle-puller in a West Texas slaughterhouse.


National Magazine Award, 1994, for "The 400-Pound CEO," 1996, for "Bounty," 1999, for "The Barber's Unhappiness," and 2004, for "The Red Bow,"in Esquire; New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and PEN/Hemingway Award finalist, both 1996, both for CivilWarLand in Bad Decline; named by New Yorker magazine as one of the Twenty Best American Fiction Writers under Forty, 1999; Syracuse University Teaching Award, 2000; Pastoralia chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, 2000; O'Henry Award, 2001, for Pastoralia; Good American Satirist Award, Harvard Lampoon, 2002; Lannen Foundation fellow, 2002; Netherlands' De Zilveren Griffel Children's Book Award, Netherlands, and Andersen Prize Children's Book Award, Italy, both 2003, for The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip; Undergraduate Teaching Award, Syracuse University, 2004; John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, 2006-2007.



CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (short stories and a novella), Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

Pastoralia: Stories (short stories), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (fairy tale), illustrated by Lane Smith, Villard (New York, NY), 2000.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (novella), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2005.

In Persuasion Nation: Stories, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2006.


Contributor to numerous anthologies, including three O. Henry Award collections, Best American Short Stories 2005, Take My Advice, Best American Travel Writing 2006, and Best Non-Required Reading 2005. Contributor of stories to periodicals, including Feed, Gentleman's Quarterly, Harper's, Spin, Story, Kenyon Review, Quarterly West, Slate, and New Yorker. Contributor of political humor to the New Yorker, Slate, and New York Times Magazine. Author of screenplay adaptation of stories from CivilWarLand; author of introduction to Huckleberry Finn, Modern Library, 2001.


George Saunders is an acclaimed American author whose works have been compared to those of Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut. His first story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, was critically lauded and was a finalist for the 1996 PEN/Hemingway Award. Saunders' 2000 collection, Pastoralia: Stories, contains fiction previously published in the New Yorker magazine. Saunders's stories portray contemporary life as both absurd and noble, according to Donna Seaman in Booklist, who noted: "Saunders' mordant wit and biting insights make his surreal stories crackle with alternating currents of humor and pathos." A Business Week reviewer wrote that "Saunders can make a reader laugh aloud, but his observations cut deeply." Lynne Tillman in the New York Times Book Review found that, compared to his first collection, the stories in Pastoralia "cover larger, more exciting territory, with an abundance of ideas, meanings and psychological nuance. Saunders can be brutally funny, and the better his stories are, the more melancholic, somber and subtle they are, too. Pathetic contradictions underlie the ruthless drive for success in love and work, and Saunders weaves them into artful and sophisticated narrative webs." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Saunders's extraordinary talent is in top form." Adrienne Miller in Esquire called the stories in Pastoralia "a delight. We're very lucky to have them."

Saunders has also written The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a fairy tale for adults, illustrated by Lane Smith. It is set in a town inhabited by bright orange, multieyed "gappers" who, unless stopped, will cover goats until they stop giving milk. Three houses are the focus of the gappers' attack in this fable. Critics were largely positive in their assessment of the work, lauding both the illustrations and Saunders' wit. "The Saunders-Smith collaboration is inspired," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.

In his novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, Saunders presents an allegorical tale about two countries in conflict. The ever-shrinking country of Inner Homer has only seven citizens and because it is growing smaller, the Inner Homerites cannot help but spill out into the lands of Outer Homer, populated by beings that are part plants and part machines with three legs and other largely nonhuman attributes. Nevertheless, the Outer Homerites look down on the Inner Homerites as being inferior and see their difficult lives as proof of God's ill will towards the Inner Homerites and His obvious preference for the Outer Homerites. When an Outer Homerite named Phil seizes power, he eventually convinces the other Outer Homerites that the trespassing Inner Homerites are innately evil and must be destroyed, a proposal backed by the media that Phil easily manipulates. Calling The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil "entertaining," a Publishers Weekly contributor also wrote: "Saunders delivers some very funny exchanges and imaginative set-pieces." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author has "an absurdist wit as playful as Monty Python's and a vision as dark as Samuel Beckett's" and called the novella "mindbending," noting that it calls for "readers to ponder the nature of parable and the possibilities of language."

Saunders returned to the short story form with In Persuasion Nation: Stories. The collection's satirical sketches and stories touch on what Saunders sees as the dehumanizing aspects of modern society, such as a world run by marketers where people are persuaded to buy products and live lives they might never have otherwise considered pursuing. For example, in the title story, people attempt to revolt against the mind-numbing advertisements that literally make up the world in which they live. Other stories have a more realistic setting, such as the tale of two Jewish women recalling the past persecutions they once endured. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Saunders's collection "reaffirms his sharp, surreal vision of contemporary, media-saturated life." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commented that Saunders's "superbly crafted satirical stories blaze like warning lights on the road to hell." Adam Begley noted in the New York Times Book Review that he is "a sucker for the sentimental streak in many of Saunders's stories." Begley also wrote: "The dozen stories that make up In Persuasion Nation achieve a delicate balance between the grim and the funny."

Saunders once told CA: "I was first introduced to the idea of being a writer by my father, who would bring home books like Machiavelli's The Prince and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle from his work as a salesman on the south side of Chicago and who would tell epic comic tales of the various hustlers and lunatics he ran into on his rounds. I had never met a writer, had no idea that one could just become a writer, but two high school teachers, Joe Lindbloom and Sheri Williams Lindbloom, made me feel that the world of ideas was the only vital world, and that if I worked hard enough, I could find a place in it. I will be forever grateful to them for their generosity and belief. My mother's role in all of this was continually to praise me to the skies and make me feel I was a person of talent, which would later get me through long periods where the external data indicated exactly the contrary.

"I graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 1981 and went to work as a geophysical engineer in Sumatra, Indonesia. I traveled widely in Malaysia, Thailand, Russia, and Pakistan. I made various comical and unsuccessful attempts to get into Third World war zones so I could write the great Afghan or Cambodian novel and sell it to Hollywood, and so on, but instead I got a terrific Sumatran virus and began sleeping fifteen hours a night. I returned to the United States and worked as a doorman in Beverly Hills, roofer in Chicago, musician, slaughterhouse laborer, mover, and finally retreated to my parents' house in Amarillo, Texas, at about twenty-six year of age. I was admitted to the Syracuse creative writing program in 1986.

"I wrote CivilWarLand in Bad Decline while working as a technical writer and engineer at an environmental engineering company in Rochester, New York. In retrospect, I can see in that book a lot of what I was living through at the time as an underpaid, under-respected, aging lackey. My wife and I were broke, with bad cars and little babies at home and, though this certainly wasn't the gulag, it was perhaps my first hint that disaster was not only possible but probable, and that our country is not particularly kind to all of its citizens, and that this unkindness takes a toll on our grace and generosity and our collective peace of mind. At the time, these were just little shouts, written when I was supposed to be writing technical reports or on the bus or late at night. The darkness and satire come, I guess, from the prevailing mode of storytelling on the south side of Chicago where, if you want to tell someone you love him, you generally pretend to knee him in the groin, then throw him in the pool while guffawing.

"It seems to me that life is a dark proposition, or can be, and that we must bear this in mind as we construct our political and moral systems. The traits and abilities that allow some of us to become rich, remain healthy, travel, wallow in good food and drink, or enthusiastically sing the praises of life have been doled out in advance, and not equitably, and we can take no real credit for these. Capitalism is the systematic taking-of-credit for these and must, it seems to me, be tempered with great doses of kindness and empathy if it is to avoid being cruel."



Booklist, April 15, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Pastoralia: Stories, p. 1525; April 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of In Persuasion Nation: Stories, p. 20.

Business Week, June 19, 2000, review of Pastoralia, p. E14.

Economist, June 2, 2001, review of Pastoralia, p. 1.

Entertainment Weekly, November 19, 1999, review of The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, p. 135.

Esquire, May, 2000, Adrienne Miller, review of Pastoralia, p. 36.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2005, review of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, p. 763.

Nation, June 26, 2006, Vince Passaro, review of In Persuasion Nation.

New York Review of Books, June 29, 2000, Joyce Carol Oates, review of Pastoralia, p. 38.

New York Times Book Review, May 28, 2000, Lynne Tillman, review of Pastoralia; October 2, 2005, Eric Weinberger, review of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, p. 31; May 14, 2006, Adam Begley, review of In Persuasion Nation, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2000, review of Pastoralia, p. 62; July 10, 2000, review of The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, p. 45; July 18, 2005, review of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, p. 177; February 13, 2006, review of In Persuasion Nation, p. 60.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2000, Tret Strecker, review of Pastoralia, p. 149.

School Library Journal, January, 2001, Susan Salpini, review of The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, p. 160.


Atlantic, (May 17, 2000), interview with author.

George Saunders Home Page, (May 25, 2006).

Wag, (May 25, 2006), Doug Childers, "The Wag Chats with George Saunders."

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Saunders, George 1958–

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