Nina Siegal has posted the full text of an interview she conducted with George Saunders around the time of his 2006 story collection, In Persuasion Nation. The conversation is a smart and wide-ranging one, covering satire, the role of fiction in American society today, the post-9/11 novel, theme parks, the meaning of “experimental” literature, and more. I was particularly struck by Saunders’ cri de coeur about his own struggles with being both “popular” and “niche”:
[P]ersonally I’ve been frustrated to some extent by my inability to draw a bigger audience and I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching about why this is. Is it because I’m so smart? That would be nice. But somehow I doubt it. Then I wonder is it because I am doing fancy-pants Elitist art moves, too insecure to be a real populist? Am I being punished for being a product and landlord of the MFA Ghetto? Possibly. Or is because the Masses are drones? Well, I think of Dickens: he did okay. But then I think of “Swapping Proctologists” and think, well, hmm, maybe they are Drones. My secret fear is that I am somehow writing in a way that both 1) pre-guarantees a small audience and 2) stems from some flaw in my personality, ie, I am not big-hearted enough to write something that ‘most’ (more?) people could read and enjoy and be moved by.
My resolution is to try and make my writing as big as I can while, at
the same time, recognizing that many of the best effects available in
fiction are highwire effects that the majority of readers might not be